Iraqi forces launch third phase of ‘Heroes of Iraq’ anti-ISIS operation

Iraqi security forces launched a new phase of an anti-ISIS operation on Monday, in areas of the country where remnants of the extremist militant group are continuing to wreak havoc.
“Heroes of Iraq: Phase Three” is being conducted across a stretch of northern Iraq, according to Yehia Rasool, spokesperson for the commander-in-chief.
“Under the guidance of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, we announce the start of the Heroes of Iraq phase three military operation to clear and inspect areas of Saladin, Diyala, Samarra, and Kirkuk from ISIS remnants,” read the Monday morning tweet by Rasool.
The days-long operation will be conducted by Iraqi army units, large units of the Popular Mobilization Forces ( or Hashd al-Shaabi ), Iraqi federal police, and will be supported by the Iraqi air force and US-led coalition warplanes, Rasool said.
The first phase of the operation was announced in mid-May, with a focus on the provinces of Anbar, Nineveh and Salahaddin. Phase two was announced on June 2, targeting ISIS holdouts on the fringes of Salahaddin and Kirkuk.
Although the Iraqi government announced the territorial defeat of ISIS in December 2017, remnants of the group have since returned to their earlier insurgency tactics, ambushing security forces, kidnapping and executing suspected informants, and extorting money from vulnerable rural populations.
Having lost all of its urban strongholds, the group is now most active in Iraq’s remote deserts and mountains, and in territories disputed by the governments of the Kurdistan Region and Iraq, where a wide security vacuum has opened up.
The militant group are suspected to have attacked a Kakai village in the district of Khanaqin near Iraq’s border with Iran last week, killing at least seven people and injuring four others.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for a spate of attacks on the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and units of the PMF in recent weeks.
On May 15, the Iraqi defense ministry said two of its soldiers were killed and four wounded when their convoy hit an IED in northern Baghdad province. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the blast. On the same day, the PMF said four of its fighters were killed and six injured in an ISIS attack in northern Diyala.
With the arrival of harvest season, ISIS militants have also resumed an earlier tactic of torching crop fields. The group claimed responsibility for arson attacks in Diyala last week, and is thought to be behind a series of fires in Makhmour on Tuesday.
The terror group published a 49-minute video on their propaganda channel on messaging app Telegram last month showing a number of attacks on security forces and civilians accused of working with Iraqi authorities.
During the film entitled “Strike the Necks”, ISIS spokesman Abu Hamza al-Quraishi warned that more attacks are to take place in the coming weeks.
“The government of infidels should realize that the will of our jihadists is very high, and what is coming is more severe than what has gone before,” Quraishi said.
“We are at the doors of the big cities, we are at the doors of your houses, so do not sleep and keep your necks covered,” he added – a threat alluding to beheadings.
On Thursday, ISIS weekly propaganda al-Naba newspaper claimed its militants had carried out 52 attacks in Iraq between June 11 and 17 alone – almost half of them in Diyala.
The latest Pentagon Inspector General report, covering January 1 to March 31, described ISIS remnants as “regrouping and reforming” and continuing to pose a threat in both Iraq and Syria.
“US CENTCOM in February described ISIS as ‘regrouping and reforming’ in the Makhmour Mountains in northern Iraq, while the 2021 DoD budget justification for overseas contingency operations said that ISIS is expected to seek to re-establish governance in northern and western areas of Iraq,” the Lead Inspector General’s report said.
According to the Pentagon report, Diyala has seen the highest frequency of attacks over the first quarter of the year – 80 of the 250 total. The Diyala towns of Baqubah and Khanaqin have suffered the deadliest attacks.
Other attacks were reported in the provinces of Anbar, Kirkuk, Nineveh, and Salahaddin.
New prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi made combating ISIS a cornerstone of his government’s agenda upon his swearing in to office last month.

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