US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — In March, quarantine was introduced in Iraq to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Tight restrictions were extended in April. Meanwhile, in the second decade of this month, militants of the Islamic State and other unknown armed groups launched a series of attacks against the Iraqi military and police, Al-Monitor writes.
Militant attacks mainly occurred in disputed areas of northern Iraq, including Kirkuk, the region’s most populous city. Both the Kurdistan regional government and the federal authorities in Baghdad are applying for these territories. Kurdish forces took control of the region in 2014, when the Islamic State came to Northern Iraq. However, immediately after the referendum on Kurdistan’s independence in 2017, the Iraqi military returned to the region and the power passed to the federal government.
Independent military experts believe that the recent attacks were carried out by “sleeping cells” of the Islamic State, which are quite a lot in the south-west of Kirkuk, primarily in Khavija. Khavija “became famous” in 2015, when a video appeared on the Internet on which IS militants beheaded Kurdish soldiers.
At the same time, according to Iraqi Security Media Cell, not all attacks were carried out by IS fighters. It is well known that the Sunnis dislike the Shiites, who dominate the federal government and the “Popular Mobilization Forces”, and the Kurds in the disputed territories. These negative sentiments could also provoke attacks against Iraqi forces.
“Interfaith and ethnic relations have intensified more than once in the disputed areas of Iraq,” says Nicholas Heras, an expert at the Institute for the Study of War.
Heras also believes that the IS has “restored” itself to northern Iraq and today has enough underground militants who fought against Iraqi and international forces. According to him, the IS has recently gained confidence and is ready to fight.
“In the past few months, the IS has again felt itself as a force capable of conducting military operations near large cities in the disputed Iraqi zone, which, of course, should worry Iraqi security forces,” says Heras. “The IS has a fairly extensive network, and militants can strike when and wherever they want, and quite powerful.”
The journalist of the Kurdish news publication Rudaw, Louk Gafuri, also speaks about the growing confidence of the IS: if earlier militants attacked small villages, now Iraqi security forces are attacking.
“We have always heard IS attacking villages and civilians in these areas,” Gafuri says. “Recently, we have increasingly heard them attacking convoys of security forces.”
According to the journalist, the terrorists took advantage of the fact that today the security forces are busy organizing coronavirus quarantine in disputed territories.
Militant attacks take place at the most inopportune time for Iraq. The country still has not overcome the months-long government crisis: Mustafa al-Kadimi, appointed by the prime minister, still cannot form an office. Since October, despite curfew, anti-government protests have continued in Baghdad and other cities. And the global drop in oil prices hurt the federal budget of Iraq.
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