Just last week, Islamic State gunmen executed 20 Iraqi’s belonging to the Shamari tribe in the town of Baaj. The Islamic State is far from finished in the region and pockets of resistance exist within Iraq as small sleeper cells that are striking terror into civilians and security forces alike. Iraqi officials have warned the local populace to take precautions when traveling within the region and that ISIS is still a threat to local security efforts.
Baaj is a city that is located just southwest of Shingal and shares a border with the Ramadi territories. Baaj was part of the last area to be freed from the Islamic State‘s control last year in June. Despite this, only the city itself has been cleared of insurgents, and ISIS still maintains control of outskirt regions. The Islamic State’s leader and religious figurehead, Abu Bakir al-Baghdadi, hid out there at some point as well. Sub-district councilor Khidir Khudeda Rasho of Grhuzer, a neighboring town, told local reporters that, “They have been moving around over the past few days. They killed 20 people last week. Their sleeper cells started to move around in Baaj after this activity.” Khudeda claims that after the anti-Islamic State operation last year, almost 300 pro-ISIS families fled to Ramadi and it is suspected by Iraqi officials that Baghdadi escaped with them.
The sub-district of Grhuzer is composed mostly of Yezidis. Iraqi officials say that nearly 60% of the houses there have been booby-trapped with improvised explosive devices. Prior to the Islamic State’s expansion, the area’s population was around 100,000 residents; now it’s almost nothing. Councilor Khudeda told reporters that, “In the beginning, people feared mines and other explosives. Now, they are afraid of Arabs in the area and the return of ISIS. No Yezidi will return to these places until the Peshmerga return to them.”
West Tigris regional security head, Ashti Kochar, spoke about the dangers of the Islamic State’s return to the region to local media saying that, “If the situation goes on like this, ISIS and Arabs of this area will return in the near future. We have information that the security situation in Shingal and Baaj is very bad. Hashd al-Shaabi forces in the region are fearful too. ISIS militants arrest and shoot people in public. We don’t know where Baghdadi is exactly. He might be in Ramadi harbor, which is vast and has many places where one can hide.”
Featured image: In this Dec. 2, 2016 file photo, a group of civilians pass close to the body of an Islamic State militant, while fleeing from Mosul due to ISIS heavy shelling in several areas under control of the Iraqi Army, Mosul, Iraq. Most of the fighting in Mosul has been taking place in the city’s eastern sector, where Iraq’s special forces are making slow progress because of fears over the safety of civilians still inside the city and spirited IS resistance. | AP Photo/Manu Brabo, File