Iraq has deployed more troops to the border with Syria as it is fearful around 13,000 Islamic State (ISIS) militants and affiliates could potentially sneak across the border amid the ongoing Turkish offensive into Kurdish-controlled northern Syria, Iraq’s Ministry of Defense spokesperson told Rudaw on Tuesday.
Turkey’s Peace Spring operation, aimed at clearing northern Syria of Kurdish forces and resettling up to three million Syrian refugees from Turkey, continued on Tuesday – but with limited gains. Kurdish forces have reportedly re-established full control over the border town Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain).
Amid the chaos of the Turkish operation, ISIS militants have escaped from camps. US officials say Turkish forces are intentionally shelling prisons where ISIS members are housed to help them escape.
Iraq, which had large swathes of its territory occupied and overrun by ISIS in 2014, and had to fight a bloody war to liberate territory from the terror group, is fearful that fighters will make their way back into Iraq.
“We are fearful, that due to the Turkish attack on Syria, Daesh members could sneak into Iraq as a result,” Brigadier Tahsin al-Khafaji, media officer of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, told Rudaw on Tuesday, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
The spokesperson claimed that 13,000 ISIS members are waiting for an opportunity to infiltrate Iraq. “There are 13,000 ISIS members, most of them prominent Daesh leaders, of different nationalities who are battle-hardened and experienced, and they could pose a grave danger to Iraq,” added al-Khafaji.
Thus, Iraq wants to prevent such infiltration by reinforcing the border through a new troop deployment. “Military reinforcement has been sent to the Iraq-Syria border,” added al-Khafaji.
Besides the troop deployment, watchtowers and 24-hour aerial surveillance have been put in place. Moreover, Iraq has established a communications channel with the Syrian government, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Turkey, and the US to “prevent possible security breaches”.