IRAQ – ISIS is making a comeback in Iraq just months after Baghdad declared victory

Washington Post | 07-17-18

BAGHDAD — The Islamic State is creeping back into parts of central Iraq just seven months after the government declared victory in the war against the group, embarking on a wave of kidnappings, assassinations and bombings that have raised fears that a new cycle of insurgency is starting again.

The small-scale attacks are taking place mostly in remote areas that have been neglected by the government and are chillingly reminiscent of the kind of tactics that characterized the Islamic State insurgency in the years before 2014, when the group captured a vast swath of territory across Iraq and Syria.

The militants have since been driven out of all but two small pockets in Syria near the Iraqi border, where they are surrounded by U.S.-backed or Syrian government forces. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared “final victory” over the Islamic State in December, and President Trump said in Helsinki on Monday that the battle is now “98 percent, 99 percent” complete.

The resurgence of violence, in a triangle of sparsely populated territory stretching across the provinces of Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahuddin, has prompted many Iraqis to question whether the victory declaration was premature.

Over the past two months, dozens of people, including local government officials, tribal elders and village chiefs, have been abducted and killed or ransomed by fighters claiming affiliation with the Islamic State. Electricity infrastructure and oil pipelines have been blown up. Armed men dressed as security forces and manning fake checkpoints have hijacked trucks and robbed travelers, rendering the main Baghdad-Kirkuk highway unsafe for a period of weeks.