ISIS and the "Ghosts of the Desert".. A media propaganda or a new threat to Iraq's largest governorate?
Shafaq News / Recent ISIS terrorist attacks in Diyala and Kirkuk have exacerbated the residents' fears that the nightmare of ISIS and its control of their cities could return.
ISIS's increased activity in various parts of Iraq coincided with news of the formation of an armed faction called "Desert Ghosts" and the withdrawal of some al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces-P.M.F.) units, all of which contributed to more tension among Al-Anbar's residents.
Shafaq News agency studied the extent of ISIS's capability to control Al-Anbar, Iraq's largest governorate, particularly after the Geweran prison (Hasakah Central Prison) incident in Syria, as well as the facts behind the emergence of the "Desert Ghosts" faction.
Some attributed the "Desert Ghosts" faction to Al-Anbar police, some to Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, and others have attributed it to the P.M.F..
Shafaq News agency interviewed Hatem Hamid, deputy governor of A-Anbar. Despite the recent developments, he did not have any details to provide in this regard, "If the Desert Ghosts are actually a thing, we would have been officially informed of it."
Hamid attributed the withdrawal of P.M.F. units from areas west of Al-Anbar to the stability of the governorate's security situation, pointing out that the army and the police are doing their duty to the fullest.
"The P.M.F. did not withdraw from the governorate, and if they do, there will be no impact on the security situation in Al-Anbar," he pointed.
On the increasing ISIS activities in different parts of the country, Hamid stressed, "We will not allow the 2014 scenario to repeat itself. Citizens have grown aware of the seriousness of these terrorist groups, and our forces have realized the weaknesses of ISIS, which has already become dilapidated as a result of the Iraqi security forces' strikes."
Regarding the possibility of arming and training tribesmen to support security forces in responding to any potential terrorist attacks, Hamid commented, "It is subject to the estimates of the General Command of the Armed Forces and the Joint Operations Command. This has not been worked on yet."
He added, "That is a measure that needs a sovereign decision from the federal government. However, Al-Anbar's government has not demanded such an order."
"No matter what, ISIS will not be able to control any city in the governorate," said Ali al-Muzaffar (Abu Zaid), P.M.F. deputy commander of operations in eastern Al-Anbar.
"The Popular Mobilization Forces, the 5th Army Division, in addition to the police forces, are all deployed in the western areas of Al-Anbar where the security situation is under control," pointed al-Muzaffar, adding, "The majority of the security breaches that take place there are due to bad weather, and there will be no attack in Al-Anbar similar to what happened in Diyala."
He continued, "In cities in eastern Al-Anbar, army forces and the P.M.F. are deployed, while all the danger lies in Karma Island, as it contains difficult geographical areas, which makes it easier for ISIS militants to hide."
"The security forces are aware of all these areas, and their security duties are continuing. Also, inspections and ID verifications of factories' owners and staff, as well as the residents. They are checked twice a week, and the situation is under control," he said.
On the possibility of the fugitives from Geweran prison's infiltration into Iraqi territory, al-Muzaffar said, "The prison is about 140 km away from the Iraqi border, i.e., there is a possibility that they may pose a threat to Iraqi territory, but the security forces have taken the utmost care and caution to prevent any infiltration attempts."
al-Muzaffar denied reports about the withdrawal of the P.M.F. from Al-Anbar, "everything that has been said in this regard is false."
As for the "Desert Ghosts" faction, al-Muzaffar said, "This faction is nothing but media exaggeration. It does not belong to the speaker of parliament, nor the Al-Anbar police, nor to the P.M.F.," adding, "In my opinion, this faction is a story fabricated by political agendas for a certain purpose, to create chaos."
"ISIS will not be able to take control again of any area in the country," said Maj. Gen. Tariq al-Asal, an Iraqi security expert, adding, "ISIS is likely to increase its activity in remote areas, similar to what it did in al-A'dhaim attack in Diyala, in which Iraqi soldiers were killed."
"ISIS will increase its IED attacks and sudden, quick raids, as it has been promising since the liberation of the cities from its control, but it no longer has any chance of taking control again," al-Asal stated.
"The security forces need to develop their plans and redistribute their units, because a small force of eleven soldiers in a remote area is an easy target. So, such units must be reinforced by drones, or integrate the security points to back them up, so that they can defend themselves and their land, as well as repel any attack they may be subjected to," he said.
The security expert laid emphasis on the importance of the presence of the Global Coalition forces, which have advanced technologies and means, including surveillance, aerial monitoring aircraft, and air defense systems.