Coronavirus strengthens IS, says Norway military chief

Coronavirus pandemic strengthens Islamic State, says Norway's military chief in Iraq
2 min read
IS militants are shielded from coronavirus in their rural hideouts and are taking advantage of the reduced security presence to stage attacks and get stronger, Stein Grongstad said.
An Iraq soldier inspects the wreckage of a deadly IS attack on 3 May [Getty]
Islamic State militants hide in sparsely populated farmlands in Iraq from where they stage attacks on Iraqi forces focusing their efforts on curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the country, the head of the Norwegian contingent in the Middle Eastern nation said on Wednesday.

Iraq is not just facing the global pandemic but also a resurgence of attacks by the Islamic State group and a financial crunch as oil prices plummet to historic lows — a crisis for a nation depending on crude exports to fund 90 percent of its state expenditure.

The militants “reside in agricultural areas and are thus not particularly susceptible to the virus infection,” Lt Col Stein Grongstad told Norway’s VG newspaper. In recent weeks, they have been targeting Iraqi forces “that are not currently coordinated to the same extent as before the virus struck.”

Grongstad described the situation as a “paradox,” that at a time when the world is grappling with the pandemic, IS attacks are on the rise.

“The Islamic State group has been moving the fighting from Syria to Iraq ... (and) is strengthening, both financially and militarily,” he said.

Since 2017, a 70-man Norwegian contingent has been based in western Iraq's vast and mostly desert Anbar province, where it trains and advises Iraqi security forces.

Iraq has reported over 2,700 cases of coronavirus infections, including 109 deaths.

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