Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries launched an operation against remnants of the Islamic State group (ISIS) around the disputed town of Khanaqin on Thursday, according to officials.
Sadiq Husseini, head of the Diyala Provincial Council’s Security Committee, told Rudaw the anti-ISIS operation encompasses the Alwand area in Khanaqin “to look for and destroy their positions”.
Husseini said the aim of the operation was launched to fill the security vacuum which has opened up between Iraqi and Kurdish lines and been exploited by militants.
Najat Tani, a member of the Diyala Provincial Council, told Rudaw the Hashd operation is vital to stem attempts by armed groups to destabilize the disputed territory.
Al-Hashed.net, a website belonging to the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries, confirmed the operation, claiming it was “tightening the noose” around ISIS.
“Hashd’s Diyala Operations Command launched a sweeping operation to the banks of Alwand River in Khanaqin. The operation will tighten the noose around ISIS remnants and prevent their infiltration into the area,” Talib al-Mosawi, the head of the Hash’s Diyala operations command, told al-Hashed.net.
Hashd al-Shaabi has “observed” the movements of ISIS militants along the riverbanks, he said.
Khanaqin is a disputed territory claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil. It was under control of the Peshmerga from 2014 until October 16, 2017, when the Kurdish forces were forced out by an Iraqi offensive.
Since then, security conditions in the town have rapidly deteriorated. Hundreds of dunams of cropland have been burned in recent weeks. Officials have blamed militants for starting the fires.
Dozens of Iraqi troops and civilians have been killed in insurgent attacks in recent months.
Many villages in the district have been evacuated as a result of security threats.
Residents have called for the return of Peshmerga and Asayesh security forces to help secure the area.
Hashd al-Shaabi is a network of predominantly Shiite militias established following a 2014 fatwa from Iraq’s highest Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in response to the rise of ISIS.
The Hashd was brought under the umbrella of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) following a 2016 parliamentary decree. However, it continued to largely operate independently of the state.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced a decree on Monday calling for the Hashd to be fully integrated into the Iraqi Armed Forces.