Update on Islamic State activities in Iraq
In September 2023, the security situation in parts of Iraq was still challenging, mainly due to the activities of Islamic State militants who keep hiding in swamps, caves and remote rural areas. They are particularly active in disputed Kurdish territories such as Kirkuk province. Terrorists are “exploiting security gaps that emerged after the al-Hashd al-Shaabi militia took control of these areas in 2017.”
On September 3, the Iraqi Air Force conducted an operation against terrorists in the Ed-Dibs district in Kirkuk province.
On September 4, Iraqi security forces reported an attempt by extremists to carry out a terrorist attack against Shia pilgrims who had arrived in the country for Arbaeen religious ceremonies. Several explosive devices were planted in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. In addition, the criminals intended to use hand grenades. Diyala is located on the route of pilgrims traveling from Iran to the city of Karbala, which is the center of Arbaeen ceremonies. They are associated with one of the most mournful dates for Shia Muslims around the world, the 40th day since the martyrdom of Imam Hussein in 680 near Karbala. This year Arbaeen took place on September 5-6.
On September 4, during security operations in the provinces of Kirkuk, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Anbar, 10 terrorists were detained, including six persons in the western province of Anbar.
On September 14, Iraqi security forces arrested seven terrorists in the cities of Mosul (Ninewah province) and Fallujah (Anbar province).
On September 21, 22 terrorists were captured in five provinces of Iraq during a special operation, the National Security Service reported. Security forces arrested 10 terrorists in Ninewa province and seven more in Anbar. Five others were detained in Diyala, Kirkuk and Baghdad.
Iraqi security services detained senior IS commander Abu Bahari on September 28 in the course of the anti-terrorist operation in Kirkuk province. Bahari led the so-called “foreign” battalion of the IS group.
The Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC) on September 28 reported the presence of approximately 500 IS fighters in the country, with the majority of them presumed to be “in the vicinity of Kirkuk province.” The JOK spokesman said that IS has lost a significant share of its military potential but has success in recruiting new fighters. He noted that military operations, combined with targeted airstrikes, allowed achieving significant improvements in security and led to the elimination of numerous Islamic State cells. Earlier, a representative of the Iraqi armed forces said that the number of IS militants in the country does not exceed 700 people, grouped into three to seven separate units. Since the beginning of the year, more than 100 IS militants have been eliminated in Iraq.
In September, the Iraqi army reinforced its presence along the border with Syria in anticipation of “infiltration by IS militants or disruption of border security.” Iraqi media reported that the number of forces stationed on the Syrian border is estimated at approximately 50 thousand people. The decision to send additional troops to the Syrian border was made based on the intelligence reports that warned of developments in northern and northeastern Syria and the possibility of IS members escaping to enter Iraq.
At the end of September, the Iraqi army launched a large-scale operation to ensure security and stability in areas outside the control of government forces in the north of the country. The operation was announced as part of the fight against hundreds of IS fighters who have fled to areas they believe to be beyond the reach of Iraqi security forces. The al-Hashd al-Shaabi militia said in its statement that “Kirkuk and Eastern Tigris Operational Command forces, in cooperation with the Salah al-Din Operational Command, have launched a major security operation on Al-Ait Island in Salah al-Din Governorate.” Dean. The operation was launched from six locations with the help of Army and Counter-Terrorism Services forces.” As early as at the beginning of the operation, three headquarters of IS gangs were discovered in the Al-Ait region in the east of Salah ad-Din province.
Iraqi Prime Minister al-Sudani said on September 21 that IS had turned into “just scattered groups pursued in the desert and caves” and no longer “posed a threat to Iraq.” On September 25, al-Sudani again asserted that “today, IS does not pose a significant threat to the Iraqi state, and the International Coalition that was formed to defeat IS is no longer needed.”
Overall, despite the decline in activity, the Islamic State still poses a material threat to Iraqi security forces and the public. The jihadists are still capable of conducting sustained subversive activities and using their narratives for recruiting the Sunni population of Iraq. They retain the ability to carry out terrorist attacks in a number of regions of the country.