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The New Arab

Anbar desert may turn into 'magnet for IS insurgents'

The province is yet to be fully retaken by Iraqi security forces [AFP]

Date of publication: 5 April, 2017

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Local officials warn that Islamic State militants will flock to the desert in Anbar, which acts as a hideout and provides them with an escape route out of the country.
The vast desert of Anbar could turn into a magnet for militants, local officials in the western Iraqi province warned on Wednesday.

Tribal leaders also warned that security in liberated areas such as Fallujah, Ramadi and Hit will continue to be breached as long as Islamic State [IS] militants remained in the desert.

"The situation in the desert in Anbar is very worrying," Imad al-Daylami, governor of al-Rutba town west of Anbar, told The New Arab.

The extended desert land, which neighbours al-Rutba, presents a safe haven for IS militants, Daylami said.

The militants have remote hideouts in al-Husayniyat and Qazaf, where Iraqi forces occasionally carry out raids, he told The New Arab.

Daylami also urged restoring the security on the international highway which runs through the desert in Anbar, linking it to Jordan, and stressed it was imperative for Iraqi security forces to liberate the western Anbar towns of al-Qa'im, Anah and Rawa.

 

Only through these steps will the desert in Anbar be secured, Daylami stressed, adding that a permanent military presence in the area is essential.

Meanwhile, Fadel al-Issawi, a senior in the council of tribes against IS, told The New Arab that removing IS militants from Anbar must be a priority for Iraqi forces.

The security of neighbouring liberated cities, including Fallujah, Ramadi and Hit will remain threatened as long as the militants continue to roam free across the desert, Issawi said.

He also warned that the desert may provide an escape route for fleeing militants.

"The desert in Anbar is vast, it faces Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria and links to the provinces of Mosul and Salahuddin," Issawi said, adding IS militants will use the route to escape.

"It is important for US-led coalition air forces to take part in any military assault on the area," he added.

Anbar is a desert area traversed by the Euphrates that borders Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria.

The province, Iraq's largest, is yet to be fully retaken by Iraqi security forces.

In February 2016, Ramadi – the capital of Anbar, was declared fully liberated.

Neighbouring city Fallujah – the first Iraqi city seized by IS in January 2014 – was recaptured in June 2016.

However, the province continues to see frequent IS attacks originating from the desert areas on the towns and cities that dot the Euphrates River valley.

IS has suffered a string of defeats over the past two years – most recently in the Mosul operation where Iraqi forces are battling to drive the extremists out of the western part of the city.

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