May 7, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7458

Iraqi Writers Warn: ISIS Not Really Defeated; It Is Present On The Ground And In Politics, Its Representatives May Wind Up In Parliament

May 7, 2018
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 7458

On December 9, 2017 Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-'Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State (ISIS), saying: "[Iraq's] armed forces have secured the entire length of the Iraq-Syria border, and we therefore declare the end of the war on ISIS... Our war was against an enemy that wanted to kill our civilization, but thanks to our unity and resolve we prevailed and quickly vanquished ISIS."[1]

However, in the five months since this announcement, ISIS has carried out numerous terrorist attacks across Iraq, especially in the Kirkuk and Saladin regions, mostly by means of ambushes and road blocks, and mainly targeting the Iraqi security forces, the Al-Hashd Al-Sha'bi militias and local government officials. This indicates that the organization has not been eradicated, but has adjusted to the new reality by adopting a strategy of guerilla warfare instead of warfare to capture and control territory.[2] Iraqi military officials have acknowledged the difficulty of eliminating ISIS in the country. For example, a military source, Ahmad Al-Dulaimi, said: "They attack us day and night with grenades, sniper rifles and mortars. They attack and then flee into the desert [in the Al-Anbar area]. We searched the area many times, but to no avail."[3]

In light of ISIS's continued activity in the country, claims began to be heard in both Sunni and Sh'ite circles that the declaration of ISIS's defeat had been premature, and that the conditions that allowed ISIS emerge continue to exist. Articles in the Iraqi press warned that ISIS may gain momentum again unless the factors that led to its rise are eliminated from the root – chiefly the corruption in Iraq's political system.

Ahead of Iraq's upcoming parliamentary election, scheduled for May 12, 2018, some Iraqis warned against attempts by ISIS members or supporters to enter parliament. Hamid Al-Hayes, chairman of the Anbar Salvation Council,[4] told the Russian news agency Sputnik that among the candidates running for parliament are 6-8 individuals who belonged to ISIS or supported it.[5] Articles in the Iraqi press likewise warned about this danger, and some referred to these candidates as "ISIS-affiliated politicians." It should be noted, however, that these accusations may be part of attempts to discredit political rivals.

The following are translated excerpts from Iraqi press articles on ISIS's continued activity in Iraq and its involvement in Iraqi politics.

The Celebrations Of ISIS's Demise Were Premature: It Has Resumed Operations And Must Be Pursued Without Mercy

'Adnan Hussein, acting editor of Iraq's Al-Mada daily, wrote about the resurgence of ISIS operations in Iraq, and criticized Prime Minister Haider Al-'Abadi for preferring to focus on the Kurdish issue and on the elections since his declaration of victory over ISIS, instead of promoting national unity in the country. He wrote: "Today, it appears that the victory over ISIS was incomplete. ISIS and other terrorist organizations are now resurfacing and renewing their operations on the outskirts of Kirkuk, in the Hamrin mountains, and on the Syrian border. We will not be surprised to see them in other areas as well, even within the boundaries of the capital, Baghdad, which continues to be a favorite target for terrorist sleeper cells, which exploit the obliviousness of some of [our] security apparatuses, [obliviousness that is] due to the corruption of some of their members.

"[The problem is that] nobody thinks to fortify the domestic front by [fostering] national unity. Since his December [2017] announcement [of victory over ISIS], or even earlier, the prime minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, [Haider Al-'Abadi], has been focusing on punishing Kurdistan and its people for their September referendum [on Kurdish independence]... while the corrupt people who have rocked the foundations of the state and society continue to act in freedom and safety. He also focused his efforts on securing himself a second term in office by forming an electoral list that is no different from past lists... ISIS and other terrorist organizations are now renewing their activity, and are finding fertile ground for [this activity] due to the absence of national unity based on social justice and equality, [both between] individuals and [between] sectors. It would be a mistake to underestimate the danger of the terrorist organizations' survival, and dangerous to maintain the situation where the political and social sectors that helped ISIS take over a third of the country four years ago continue to exist. We need different perceptions than we have today, lest we wake up one day and find the terrorists on the very outskirts of Baghdad."[6]

Journalist Mahdi Qassem wrote in a similar vein, calling on the government to prevent ISIS from reestablishing itself: "It was apparently clear in advance that the celebrations over the expulsion of ISIS's gangs from Iraq's cities would be short lived. These barbarous gangs have resumed their former status as terrorists, just as they were before they took over several Iraqi provinces. They set up fake road blocks, carry out abductions and blitz attacks in various parts of northern Iraq, and operate in large areas. The notable fact is that this terrorist activity takes place only in northern Iraq, while formerly [ISIS] was active in the west and in the Diyala region... [In the north] they operate easily and securely, even though this new arena is not their [natural] habitat... The federal government must declare a high alert in the regions where the criminal ISIS gangs are operating, declare them war zones, subject them to military law, and carry out precise and comprehensive military action to purge them [of terrorists]... and ruthlessly eliminate the ISIS operatives while demolishing their homes over their heads..."[7]

ISIS Has Allies Within The Political System; Political Corruption Keeps It Alive

Some writers pointed to the relations between ISIS and corrupt politicians, calling to combat both simultaneously. Mahdi Moula, a columnist for the Iraqi news site Sawt Al-Iraq, wrote that ISIS has managed to install supporters in the political system, and that, in return, these "ISIS-affiliated politicians" provide it with protection and freedom of action. He wrote: "The Wahhabi-Saddami[8] ISIS [organization] has not been eliminated. It is recuperating, recovering and establishing bases and centers across Iraq. It is changing form so it can burst forth suddenly, unexpectedly and forcefully... They have managed to establish bases and centers in all the Iraqi cities... and to create a support [base] among all sectors – Sunnis, Shi'ites, Kurds, and even among various parties and factions, both Islamic and civil – to the point where it is difficult if not impossible to expose [the ISIS members] and know who they are, and to arrest and execute them and everyone affiliated with them. It is a well-known fact that the Wahhabi-Saddami ISIS relies on 'ISIS-affiliated politicians.' The ISIS terrorists selected these politicians and got them to run for prominent state positions, and [thereby] managed to infiltrate all the state institutions, [taking over] both low-level and high-level positions. Their goal was to sabotage the political process, create chaos and spread corruption... This enabled the ISIS terrorists to massacre, kill, and sow destruction as they pleased... easily and without fear, for they had figures who protected, funded and supported them... Even when ISIS operatives were apprehended, there were those who defended them and got them acquitted by destroying evidence and by keeping people from testifying against them, through threats or bribes. And failing that, the [politicians] had the ability to break [the suspects] out of jail. It can therefore be said that, were it not for the 'ISIS-affiliated politicians,' the Wahhabi-Saddami ISIS would never have managed to invade Iraq and capture more than a third of its territory...

"As mentioned, following the defeat of the Wahhabi ISIS in western Iraq, the organization changed form and established bases in the north, center and south, creating a [support] base and sleeper cells. It also wished to cultivate supporters in the political system, and selected [figures] from diverse [backgrounds]: Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites.  This, because the ISIS terrorists rely on these 'ISIS-affiliated politicians,' without whom they lacks any influence. This is why they decided to take part in the elections and started buying [candidates] whose conscience is corrupt and cheaply acquired..." [9]  

In another article, Al-Mada acting editor 'Adnan Hussein argued that the war on ISIS must include efforts to prevent the election of corrupt candidates to parliament: "Alongside [actual] ISIS members who are running for parliament, there are corrupt politicians, as well as people who are simply incompetent and have failed at politics, administration and everything else. They too are running in the elections, and they are no less dangerous than ISIS. Corruption is no less odious than terror... It is corruption that brought ISIS [to Iraq in the first place]... It is corruption that caused the [Iraqi] army, equipped with the most deadly weapons, to flee on orders from its own commanders when confronted by a few hundred foreigners from all over the world. It is critical to oppose ISIS and prevent it from infiltrating parliament, but this is not enough. Leaving the gates of parliament open to corrupt and failing [politicians] means leaving the gates of Iraq open once again to ISIS and other terror organizations..."[10] 

Sawt Al-Iraq columnist Majid Al-Turaihi wrote: "All the elements that enabled ISIS [to emerge] in Iraq in 2014 still exist today. Over 90 percent of ISIS's members in Iraq are Iraqis, not foreign invaders. ISIS did not come out of nowhere, but is the product of a toxic domestic chemical reaction born of sectarian hate... [and of] a sense of impunity, lack of [state] services and high unemployment levels, which [in turn] stem from the absence of [national] projects and jobs due to the smuggling of billions of dollars [out of the country]... [and from] false appointments based on bribery, as well as [the actions] of foreign elements whose common feature is a hatred of Iraq.

"ISIS arrived in 2014, and within 24 hours took over a third of its territory, capturing billions of dollars in military gear and in funds. Not a single official was prosecuted for this. [So] will those who are responsible for ISIS's emergence be afraid to repeat their action?

"Many of the Iraqis who make up 90 percent of ISIS members are civil servants or retired civil servants and army personnel, who received a salary from the Iraqi government before and during their time as ISIS members, and continue to receive this salary today. So what has changed that will keep ISIS from returning?... ISIS emerged because of people who dreamt of making quick profits at any cost and attaining high positions without any training..." Al-Turaihi concluded: "ISIS as a phenomenon and a movement will be eliminated only after  financial and administrative corruption is eliminated... The incompetent officials must be prosecuted, while honoring those who sacrificed for the homeland, and their families..."[11]

ISIS Operatives Are Running For Parliament; They Must Not Succeed

Iraqi journalist Salah Hassan wrote in the Saudi Al-Hayat daily, which is published in Dubai: "A surprise… that cannot be ignored is that, following the decision on a general amnesty[12] and national reconciliation, many ISIS leaders are running in the elections. Most of them were involved in the execution of Iraqi soldiers who had been taken hostage during the war on ISIS, [and] many videos of them are circulating on various forums and media platforms. Some were detained in Iraqi jails, but the general amnesty law enabled their release and now [election posters bearing] their pictures fill our streets and squares…

"The Iraqi people ought to realize who its leaders are following 15 years in which destruction has reigned, its sovereignty has been was violated, its identity has been devastated, its security has been lost, crime has spread and its cities have drowned in filth. The question that arises is: Why does this people elect these leaders knowing they are corrupt, thieving and murderous? The reason is fear: fear of civil war and of the return of the car bombs that all the large parties can detonate in every Iraqi city…"[13]


[1], December 9, 2017.

[3] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), March 2, 2018.

[4] An organization comprising mainly Sunni tribesmen from the Al-Anbar region, formed in 2003 to combat Al-Qaeda.

[5], February 18, 2018.

[6] Al-Mada (Iraq), March 10, 2018.

[7], March 31, 2018.

[8] I.e., reminiscent of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

[9], March 24, 2018.

[10] Al-Mada (Iraq), February 24, 2018.

[11], March 28, 2018.

[12] In May 2016 the Iraqi parliament passed a law offering amnesty to tens of thousands of prisoners, including individuals sentenced to death, excluding those convicted of terror, rape, homosexuality, antiquities theft, and several other crimes., August 25, 2016.

[13] Al-Hayat (Dubai), April 19, 2018.

Share this Report: