ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A new phase in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) has begun two years after the group was declared territorially defeated in Iraq.
The Iraqi army, with the help of the US-led Coalition, launched a wide military operation early on Sunday morning on five frontlines in the disputed areas of northern Iraq against ISIS sleeper cells and hideouts.
Troops are now stationed in Nineveh, Diyala, Saladin, Kirkuk and al-Jazeera.
This is the eighth phase of the “Will of Victory” anti-ISIS operation that first started on July 7, aiming to clear desert and mountainous areas in Iraq from ISIS sleeper cells.
The disputed territories have borne witness to multiple attacks amid an absence of security forces, creating the perfect conditions for ISIS to regroup. ISIS has recently increased their nighttime insurgency on villages around Diyala and Kirkuk.
At least 250 families have left their homes in Diyala this year due to the night attacks and threats of ISIS militants, according to a Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights statement sent by WhatsApp to Rudaw English last week.
The group claimed responsibility via Telegram for a Saturday sniper attack against Iraqi federal police in Um Talil village, Diyala which killed two police officers and left two others wounded.
The Iraqi army, with the help of the US-led Coalition have previously conducted multiple anti-ISIS operations in the disputed areas to wipe out remnants of the terror group.
Many fighters are now said to be hiding out in the mountain areas of Makhmour, a disputed town on the border with federal Iraq.
‘Will of Victory’ is a collaboration between various domestic forces, including the Iraqi Special Ops Emergency Response Division, federal police, the army, intelligence services, counter terrorism units and the air force, as well as the US-led international coalition.
The operation comes amid ongoing protests across the south of the country, which have created further instability.
Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi) were not mentioned in the recent statement, the first time they have not been heavily involved in the operation. A Sunni PMF militia, however, will be providing assistance in the operation.
The PMF was created in 2014 following a fatwa, or religious call to action, from Iraq’s highest Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in direct response to the ISIS insurgency that swept across Iraq and Syria.
Although the PMF has been brought under the umbrella of the official Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), and measures have been taken to fully integrate the units into Iraq’s military apparatus, the PMF continues to act independently and are said to be behind recent attacks on Iraqi military bases.
Several rockets targeted K1 military base in Kirkuk on Saturday, home to both US and Iraqi troops.
The US is now investigating the “possible involvement” of Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah, a unit of PMF, according to Reuters.