ISIS resurfacing in Iraq as country looks to hit back at terror organization

BAGHDAD, Iraq -The Islamic State caliphate, which held large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, was defeated in 2018, yet analysts are seeing signs, including a growing number of attacks in northern and western Iraq, of a resurgence, a cause for concern that needs to be watched closely. 

“The Islamic State has begun to regain its activity in an attempt to gather what remains of its members,” Fadil Abu Ragheef, an Iraq-based expert on terrorist groups, told Fox News Digital.

He said that while the organization had lost the main centers of power it held under the first generation of its leadership, it continues to pose a danger in the areas where it still has strength, the northern cities between Salah al-Din, Kirkuk and the Mam Mountains. 

Ragheef also referred to areas in western Anbar that constitute a fortification for the organization and still pose a widespread danger. In recent months authorities have dismantled an ISIS arms factory for booby-trapping armored and fortified vehicles, presumably for suicide attacks in Kirkuk and elsewhere.


Recent attacks include suicide bombings close to Baghdad and other parts of the country, and Iraqi authorities have also uncovered and stopped some ISIS operations. 

During an interview with Fox News Digital on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein urged western countries to keep going after ISIS. 

He warned of the threat of the resurgence not just to Syria and Iraq but the world. “What is going to happen?” Hussein asked. “That means they would be once again active inside Syria and that also they would cross the border, and they will come because Syria is not so far away from Iraqi border. So they will cross the border, and they will come to Iraq.” He called on countries to repatriate their citizens from the Al-Hol prison camp as Iraq had been doing. 

Ragheef noted that while ISIS is nowhere near its previous strength, it has resumed its activities and is not going away. It is an ideological organization that continues to practice its activities with full force, he added, and is in the midst of reorganizing its ranks again.


He said many ISIS members are among the approximately 57,000 people held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria, and noted that the situation has become a growing concern for the U.S. and international community. 

During a visit last month to the camp, Central Command chief Gen. Erik Kurilla warned that ISIS seeks to exploit the horrific conditions of the camp, where 70% of the population is under the age of 12. The general called the camp “a literal breeding ground for the next generation of ISIS.” 

Kurilla also noted that half of the camp’s residents are from Iraq and commended Iraq for repatriating its nationals. 

Bill Roggio a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and editor of the Long Journal War, which follows the global war on terrorism, told Fox News Digital, “The Islamic State, which is born out of al Qaeda in Iraq, is in a stage of resurgence. It has ebbed and flowed over the last two decades.”

“It has demonstrated an ability to regenerate after suffering major defeats,” Roggio continued, “and one of its traditional bases of support has been in northern and western Iraq, particularly the Hamrin mountains. The Islamic State has been in a rebuilding phase, having lost it caliphate in 2019, and is regaining some ground in western and north Iraq.”

Leaders of local public mobilization forces (PMF) formed to stop ISIS in 2014 say they are watching out for the terror group.


“Our eyes will stay focused on the terrorism and our fingers will be on our weapons to defend our country,” Sayyid Hamid al-Yasiri, the leader of one group told Fox News Digital. Al-Yasri was appointed by the influential Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Sistani, the supreme religious leader to Iraq’s Shiite community, holds massive sway in the country. 

According to an Associated Press report, in 2014, Sistani called on able-bodied Iraqis to volunteer and join security forces to fight the onslaught of the Islamic State. The call was widely heeded, and the mobilization helped defeat the militants. But it also swelled the ranks of Shiite militias, many of which are loyal to Iran and have been accused of worsening sectarian tensions. 

Al-Yasri and his group have made clear that they don’t take orders from Iran. Indeed, earlier this year a pro-Iranian militia group tried to assassinate Al-Yasri following a speech he made that was critical of militias taking orders from outside interests.

“We have submitted several reports [to Iraqi authorities] that ISIS has started to be very active and there is an influx of foreign fighters from Syrian territory, and they are distributed from the island of Nineveh toward the mountainous regions,” Al-Yasri said.

He added that his militia has been in contact with ISIS, killing some 14 terrorists in a recent battle, and said this “proved that this organization has begun to return with force to these areas, and appropriate plans must be drawn up to confront it, and rely on the reports of the people of the field in evaluating ISIS’ new movements.” 

He noted that last month his group carried out seven operations, interspersed with multiple clashes and the seizure of four modern pickup vehicles, modern weapons, booby-traps, and huge food and drug stores. He concluded: “As a field man… I see that ISIS has returned with strength and a new tactic based on a war of attrition and hit-and-run.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Islamic caliphate was defeated in 2018 and while ISIS has not taken over territory anywhere since, some observers worry that there are signs of it slowly regrowing in parts of Iraq.

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