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Flurry of Sunni Triangle ops sparks questions over Islamic State

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Mar 16, 2021

ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan — Mass killings, together with ones through which attackers wore army apparel, and counterterrorism operations on a near-daily foundation have revived considerations about an oft-prophesized Islamic State (IS) “resurgence” in areas northwest of Baghdad.

While many analysts say low-level insurgency might proceed for fairly a while with out this resulting in any territorial management by the nonstate actors, locals contacted by Al-Monitor put the blame for the newest assaults on armed forces deployed there.

International coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto informed Al-Monitor March 14, “[IS] is territorially defeated. It continues to pursue an insurgency with hit-and-run tactics, murder, assassinating and intimidating local leaders. Despite a recent uptick in simple low-level attacks [the coalition] has not observed any indication of a resurgence.”

The earlier day he had tweeted an article quoting a peshmerga officer as saying March 11, “The US-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State had carried out over two dozen airstrikes against the group over the previous day.”

When requested by Al-Monitor whether or not such an unusually excessive variety of airstrikes had really been performed, Marotto replied, “I can’t confirm at this time.”

Six members of a household together with ladies and two people linked to them have been killed in three separate, focused assaults March 11 in Albu-Dour, a Sunni-majority village within the southern a part of Salahuddin province.

In claiming accountability, IS mentioned these killed had been performing as spies towards them for the government-salaried Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). Iraqi safety officers have been quoted as saying that the perpetrators had infiltrated the village in army uniform.

Residents of Salahuddin province contacted by Al-Monitor mentioned the foundation of safety breaches stem from the presence of armed forces “with no connection to the territory” and have been skeptical of the IS claims.

The armed forces referred to are Shiite-led PMU items, a few of which took half in liberating the Sunni-majority province from IS between 2014 and December 2017, when Iraq declared victory over the transnational terrorist group within the nation.

On March 14, Salahuddin tribal council chief Marwan al-Jbara spoke to Al-Monitor in Erbil on the Albu-Dour incident. He famous that the village, “15 kilometers [9 miles] south of Tikrit,” is below the accountability of PMU Brigade 35 generally known as the Martyrs of Sadr Forces, which controls “a 25-kilometer [15.5-mile] area flanking the road between Baghdad and Mosul from northern Samarra to al-Awja,” the native village of former President Saddam Hussein.

Saddam was faraway from energy by the US invasion in 2003 and executed in 2006.

Jbara mentioned, “[These nonlocal PMU forces] hinder people from going through their areas and have a lot of problems with the local community. This incident is the fifth one [recently] in this sector. The others occurred in nearby villages but together they have left dozens dead — all killed in cold blood. A committee was set up to investigate these incidents but nothing came of it.”

Though IS claimed accountability for the newest assault, he famous, “[Locals] do not believe this, because there are so many problems between the forces [deployed in the area and the community itself].” Jbara claimed that the Albu-Dour incident made residents of Salahuddin province “realize that some want to effect demographic change in this area by pushing locals out.”

He added, “[The area] is very rich. It has many fish ponds and very fertile soil,” compared with desert and barren land in other areas of the country, and is strategically located.

In a previous interview with Al-Monitor in person in Baghdad in late January, Jbara had said that tribes and residents of the Salahuddin region wanted greater US-led coalition presence on the ground and were concerned about the steady drawdown over the previous year.

Since 2003, the area northwest of Baghdad has often been referred to as the Sunni Triangle. Tribes are important in the area and tribal fighters who took part in the Arab Spring were key to fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq in the years of extremist insurgency prior to the rise of IS.

Many Anbar and Salahuddin residents fled to Erbil when their areas were taken over by IS in 2014 and have only recently returned. Some who can afford to do so return to the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for short periods when in need of respite or rest, and some have bought or rent second homes there.

Arab internally displaced persons from several Iraqi provinces are also still in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, including from a town in Iraq’s Babil province previously known as Jurf al-Sakr and now as Jurf al-Nasr, which was retaken from IS in 2014 but whose residents have not yet been allowed to return, allegedly because of Shiite militias preventing them from doing so.

Many of these, Jbara said in late January, are farmers and thus have no alternative source of income, with their land having been occupied for over six years even after IS was pushed out.

Links between Iraq’s Sunni Arabs — who for years were associated by many with Saddam, who committed massacres targeting the country’s Kurdish and Shiite populations but also Sunni communities that tried to rise up against him — and the country’s Kurdish population seem to have grown stronger in part because of this refuge the Arabs and others were given by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) during the years under IS.

Meanwhile, intelligence sharing and cooperation between the central government and the KRG concerning areas disputed between the two remain less than ideal.

Some progress, however, seems to have been made. Many of the most recent successes announced by the central government were made possible by intelligence from both local sources and KRG intelligence/security services, including the Jan. 28 killing of the head of IS operations in Iraq, a man known as Abu Yasser al-Issawi, in the southern Kirkuk province flanking Salahuddin.

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