Iraq launches new action against IS in Diyala province
The province has seen an increase in violent incidents over the past two months with assassinations, rocket attacks, and roadside bomb explosions occurring almost daily.
Local officials have blamed both IS militants and militias from the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), who work with the Iraqi government but are backed by Iran, for the rise in violence.
On Saturday the PMF announced that they had repelled a violent attack by IS militants on one of their bases near the town of Al-Azim in Diyala.
A statement from the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said that the new phase of the operation would concentrate on "pursuing terrorist cells and creating a secure environment for displaced people to return to six areas of Diyala province".
The statement added that the Iraqi army, the PMF, and the police were all participating in the anti-IS operation.
On 11 July, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi visited Diyala and vowed to deal with any threat by "terrorist gangs". The current operation, known as Heroes of Iraq 4, was lauched on the same day.
The Iraqi government, in cooperation with the PMF, has launched several operations against IS militants in Diyala province in recent months.
Officials and local residents in Diyala province have complained that the security situation is worsening, saying that pro-Iran militias outside the government’s control have increased their presence in the province’s towns, on the pretext of protecting them from IS.
A local official who preferred to remain anonymous told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that "chaos" had taken hold of the province, with "activities by IS and revenge actions by the militias, who use the excuse that IS militants are present. This has caused a dangerous deterioration in the security of most areas, and scenes of horror have returned".
Other local officials have warned that many civilians could be displaced by the fighting.
"We hope that the military operation will deal with the security problem at its root and doesn't end with an increase in militia presence in these areas, because this would lead to more challenges," the local official added.