Iraq Bolsters Security on Syria Border against ISIS Threat

Saturday, 23 February, 2019 - 06:45
Baghdad – Hamza Mustafa

The Joint Operations Command in Iraq stressed Friday that it is overseeing the return of Iraqi refugees from Syria.

It said that it was following the developments on the border region with Syria and “their possible repercussions on the internal Iraqi scene.”

Its forces were on full alert to counter any repercussions and prevent the infiltration of terrorists from Syria, it added.

The return of refugees, it continued, is being overseen with the Ministry of Displacement and Migration, human rights commission and other security and government agencies.

The command denied that a mass migration from Syria’s al-Hol refugee camp was taking place, saying that the return of Iraqis from that camp was being studied in order for the appropriate security and humanitarian decision to be taken.

Media reports revealed that the international coalition combating ISIS was seeking to return 20,000 Iraqis in Syria back to their homes.

Head of the security committee in the al-Anbar province council, Naim al-Kaoud denied these claims, saying they were mere media speculation.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the situation on the border is under “complete control.”

Moreover, he noted the coordination between the Iraqi military command and Syrian Democratic Forces, “which demonstrates that the border is secure.”

On the ISIS members who have been returned to Iraq, Kaoud said that the authorities have received 130 Iraqi militants who are wanted by the judiciary on terrorism charges.

Former head of the parliamentary security and defense committee Hakem al-Zamly told Asharq Al-Awsat that the “ISIS chapter in Iraq can no longer be revived” after the terrorist group was dealt severe blows.

It is also rejected by locals, who had previously embraced it, he remarked, warning, however, that the group may still employ sleeper cells to “extort the government.”

The Iraqi army has deployed more than 20,000 troops to guard the border frontier, but militants are slipping across, mostly to the north of the conflict zone in eastern Syria, in tunnels or under the cover of night. Others are entering Iraq disguised as cattle herders.

Hundreds — likely more than 1,000 — ISIS extremists have crossed the open, desert border in the past six months, defying a massive operation by US, Kurdish, and allied forces to stamp out the remnants of the group in eastern Syria, according to three Iraqi intelligence officials and a US military official.

Indications of the extremist group's widening reach in Iraq are clear.

Cells operating in four northern provinces are carrying out kidnappings, assassinations, and roadside ambushes aimed at intimidating locals and restoring the extortion rackets that financed the group's rise to power six years ago.

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