Iraq continues to kill, capture ISIS operatives as effectiveness questioned

ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan – Iraqi security forces continued operations against Islamic State (IS) cells and funding sources in December with a number of captures and killings as the US “combat mission” against ISIS in the country was drawing to a close.

The US combat mission is officially scheduled to end on December 31. Military advisers will remain in Iraq at bases in Anbar, Erbil and Baghdad.

Iraqi military intelligence reportedly captured a man near Ramadi in Iraqi Anbar province who was responsible for collecting “zakat” from shepherds, according to a December 21 statement. Tweeter by the Iraqi security media cell linked to the government.

Zakat is a religious obligation in Islam to donate a certain portion of one’s wealth to charitable causes. Few Muslim countries apply the taxation of zakat, but the IS created for this purpose a specific administrative department, Diwan al-Zakat wa al-Sadaqat, while it still controlled a significant part of the territory between Iraq and Syria.

Iraq declared victory against ISIS in the country in December 2017, while ISIS lost its last territory across the border in Syria – where many Iraqi IS fighters fled after being expelled from their country of origin – early 2019.

The last two towns to be taken over by Iraqi security forces from ISIS were Qaim and Rawa, in the western Anbar region along the border with Syria.

Iraqi security and counterterrorism expert Fadhil Abu Ragheef announced via Twitter On December 10, Suhaib Hamid Dawood al-Zawi, son of former al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, was killed in Anbar.

Ragheef noted that this operation was also carried out by military intelligence and that Zawi was killed north of Rutba in the desert area of ​​Qaim.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s real name was Hamid Dawood Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi; he was born in the village of al-Zawiyah, near Haditha in the Anbar region.

He was the emir of the “Islamic State in Iraq” at the time of his assassination by a joint operation of American and Iraqi forces southwest of Tikrit in 2010 and could not have been found until after the capture of ” wali ”(governor) of Baghdad at the time, Manaf al-Rawi, arrested in 2010.

He was replaced by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who would become the “caliph” of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The group then shortened its name to Islamic State (IS).

The captures of Al Qaeda and ISIS commanders have often proved more useful to Iraq than their “elimination”.

Responding to questions about the details of the operation that resulted in Zawi’s assassination in Anbar, Ragheef told this reporter on December 12 in Baghdad that Iraqi intelligence had followed Zawi for a week before he was arrested. aim and it is believed but not certain that the current ISIS governor for Anbar was killed with him.

On December 16, the Twitter account of the Special Operation Joint Task Force – Levant reported that the Counterterrorism Directorate of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region had “carried out operations in the al-Zaytun region in Erbil, Iraq, which resulted in the capture of two [IS arms smugglers]. “

A report by the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Department of Defense released on November 4 warned in particular, however, “Iraqi security forces have demonstrated poor operational security, lack of reliable information on operations, complacency, and poor coordination and control of airstrikes” during the period from July 1 to September 30.

He also noted that, across the Iraqi border in an area of ​​northeastern Syria under the control of the Kurdish-led, US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), “[The SDF] independently conducted only human intelligence gathering, relying on the Coalition for other intelligence capabilities. The SDF, with the support of the Coalition, continued [to] improve security in detention centers holding ISIS fighters, but CJTF-OIR reported conditions remained substandard, adding to the threat of escapes. “

There was an alleged escape attempt in November from SDF-run facilities with scores of IS detainees inside.

At the end of last year, the SDF reportedly detained at least 10,000 ISIS prisoners in around 14 detention centers, including thousands of Iraqi nationals.

In recent months, there have been numerous murders of Iraqi nationals in the huge al-Hol camp in SDF territory for those suspected of also being linked to ISIS operatives.

And while arrests of suspected ISIS commanders and facilitators continue, some analysts are also seeing a decrease in the effectiveness of anti-ISIS operations in Iraq in recent months.

Regional security analyst Alex almeida Dec. 20 noted on Twitter: “About five months ago, at the start of the third quarter of 2021, I started to detect a drop in the effectiveness of the ISF [Iraqi Security Operations] customs clearance operations – not just the “for the show” routine Fed Pol [Federal Police] and AI [Iraqi Army] ops but Iraqi CTS [Counterterrorism Services] and Kurdish SOF [Special Operations Forces] ops which generally enjoy the more intensive empowerment and support of the US-led international anti-ISIS coalition.

He continued, “Now we see more operations concluding without any capture / discovery of insurgent bodies having been reported ”and that“ insurgents generally have time to move / disperseBefore the Iraqi Air Force took effective action against them.

Iraqi military operations sometimes consist of large convoys of vehicles in the desert with lots of photo opportunities but little chance of catching insurgents unawares.

That less “body captures / finds” is due to a reduced presence of ISIS in the country or a worrying trend towards reduced effectiveness will be observed in the future.

For now, attempts are being made to address the lingering problems related to security loopholes in the disputed territory between the central government and the Iraqi Kurdistan region, widely seen as one of the main reasons why the cells of the EI can continue to operate in the country.

Sara H. Byrd