Iraqi officials warn of impending fall of Hawija to IS
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Islamic State (IS) militants on Thursday launched an attack on Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militias at the border with Syria as concerns the extremist group will attempt to retake territory in Iraq grow.
The attack took place south of the border town of Tal Asfuq in northern Iraq, the latest assault since Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared “final victory” against IS.
On its website, the Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), claimed to have repelled the attack at the Syrian-Iraqi border. The area is located west of the town of Baaj in the Nineveh Province.
No casualties on either side were reported by the Hashd al-Shaabi, which has been supporting the Iraqi army in its fight against IS and its takeover of disputed territories against the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
Iraqi forces suffered another attack by the militant group in Anbar Province, along the Syrian border as well, prompting Baghdad to reinforce the area with PMF fighters.
Earlier this week, the US-led coalition warned that militants were moving freely in the desert areas bordering Iraq controlled by regime forces and would be adapting insurgency tactics in the country.
Kurdish officials also cautioned that ongoing tensions between Erbil and Baghdad would contribute to the reemergence of IS or similar groups in Iraq.
Since the military takeover of Kirkuk Province by Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia militias on Oct. 16, the security situation has drastically deteriorated in disputed areas.
Local officials have claimed IS cells have returned to the town of Hawija, southwest of Kirkuk.
Over the past few days, Hawija has witnessed several assassinations of Hashd al-Shaabi officers and Iraqi officials according to security sources.
Officials suspect the insurgents are using tunnels near the town of Riyadh to slip into Kirkuk and carry out attacks.
According to Iraqi newspaper al-Mada, an Iraqi security source warned of the possible fall of Hawija to remnants of IS, as Iraqi forces withdrew from the area following its liberation.
The presence of IS sleeper cells are one of the toughest security challenges facing newly-liberated areas and hinder the return of displaced people who fled to the Kurdistan Region and other parts of Iraq following the emergence of the extremist group in 2014.
Recently, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi claimed the fight against IS had gone from a military battle to one of intelligence and information, calling on Iraqis to remain vigilant and cautious.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany