ISIS tries to reestablish foothold in disputed areas: US State Dept. report
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – In its annual report on terrorism, the State Department said on Thursday that ISIS sought to reestablish footholds in areas of disputed control between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal government of Iraq.
This comes amid increased ISIS attacks in disputed territories, including Makhmour, Diyala, and Kirkuk.
The State Department’s report on international terrorism, formally titled “Country Reports on Terrorism 2020,” was released on Thursday.
It said that despite ISIS’s territorial defeat in Iraq, the terror group continued to conduct operations on a smaller scale, particularly in the North and West, including rural areas with limited presence of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
“ISIS sought to reestablish footholds in Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din provinces, especially in the areas of disputed control between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the federal government,” the report said.
“Although ISIS maintained its capability to conduct deadly terrorist attacks in Iraq, these attacks resulted in fewer casualties in 2020 than in previous recent years.”
The report said ISIS attack methods included bombings, indirect fire, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and ambushes.
The report noted that anti-ISIS operations are principally executed by the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), as well as by various security forces under the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the Kurdish Peshmerga.
In its 2020 report, the State Department supported the KRG complaint that ISIS is taking advantage of the lack of coordination between the ISF and the Kurdish Peshmerga.
Since Nov. 27, ISIS militants have killed 23 people in disputed territories, including Peshmerga fighters and Kurdish civilians.
Early December, a joint brigade of the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga was deployed to the disputed village of Lheban northwest of Kirkuk following an ISIS attack there.
Earlier this week, the US-led Coalition affirmed that its presence in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region will continue, as it shifts to an “advise, assist and enable” mission with its Peshmerga and Iraqi partners, as the Coalition’s combat mission comes to an end.
Secret Chemical, Biological Labs?
Last May, the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh concluded that ISIS had used chemical and, possibly, biological weapons on prisoners, while it controlled territory in Iraq, as The Washington Post reported.
“Evidence already secured indicates that [ISIS] tested biological and chemical agents and conducted experiments on prisoners as part of this program, causing death,” the UN said.
“Experimental research in chemical warfare is a little-known facet of the Islamic State’s ambitious campaign to create new weapons for fighting its regional enemies or using as terrorist weapons abroad,” the Post noted.
ISIS “recruited scientists and engineers—a mix of foreign experts and veterans of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons factories—to help them produce sulfur mustard, using the laboratories of Mosul University as a research lab,” the Post explained.
Chemical and biological weapons, classified as weapons of mass destruction, can kill in very large numbers. Used with maximal effect, they are far more lethal than conventional weapons.
Both chemical and biological weapons have been banned by international treaties for nearly a century—since the 1925 Geneva Protocol, following World War I.
Nonetheless, Saddam extensively used chemical weapons in his war with Iran (1980-88) and in his genocidal Anfal campaign against Iraq’s Kurds.
Indeed, at the end of the 1991 Gulf War which drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, after US President George H. W. Bush called a unilateral ceasefire (expecting that Saddam would be overthrown in a coup), Saddam moved, instead, to crush the popular uprisings that had erupted in the south and the north of the country.
Virtually the entirety of the Kurdistan Region emptied out. People feared that Saddam would use chemical weapons against them, as he had before, and they fled to the international borders with Turkey and Iran, thinking he would hesitate to use such weapons where the whole world could see.
Read More: The Kurdish Exodus: 25th Anniversary
Thursday’s State Department report explained that through the Global Threat Reduction Program (GTR), the Department had trained, using virtual platforms, civil and security sectors from the Iraqi government and from the KRG “to identify and neutralize” ISIS’s “potential clandestine chemical and biological weapons laboratories in Iraq.”
Although the State Department issues a terrorism report annually, and recent reports have regularly included details of ISIS’s terrorism, this was the first time that the report mentioned the efforts of the terrorist group to develop chemical and biological weapons.
Presumably, the appearance of this subject in the 2020 terrorism report reflects the findings of the UN Investigative Team. But as the 2020 report suggests, the danger posed by ISIS’s use of such weapons may not have ended.
Editing by Khrush Najari and Laurie Mylroie