The people of Diyala are expressing fear that their towns will once again fall under the control of al-Qaeda following a government announcement that it plans to withdraw troops by October following the completion
Fears have been stoked by the recent explosion of a suicide bomber at an Iftar banquet in the town of Balad Ruz. And on Wednesday an ambush southwest of Diyala killed 35 police officers and Awakening Council members according to the Diyala governate.
Provincial council members, meeting en masse for the first time since a raid on council premises by unknown security forces last month, stressed that the security operation has not yet brought about satisfactory results. Families continue to live under threat from armed groups such as the ‘Jaysh al-Islam’, ‘Kataeb al-Mustafa’, and ‘Jaysh al-Jama’ al-Naqshabandiyah’, and there have been a number of assassinations of officials, security officers and their families in neighborhoods in Baqouba and south of Balad Ruz.
Fifty five days have passed since the beginning of the security operation and according to council members the continued violence is “clear evidence that the Bashaer al-Khair operation has not yet achieved its aims.”
“The emergence of new radical organizations does not imply that there are no al-Qaeda sleeper cells left in the province. There are still wanted people being pursued and it is these people who announced the new groups in response to their defeat. The tangible decrease in the number of suicide attacks is a clear indication that the security operation has achieved some satisfactory results on the security level and we still have time to attack al-Qaeda and other strongholds of extremists groups,” Raad Jawad al-Tamimi, Diyala’s provincial governor, told Niqash.
According to Ibrahim Hassan Bajilan, chairman of the local government council, it is difficult to speculate whether al-Qaeda’s influence has really diminished in Diyala following its return to some neighbourhoods.
“The return of threats and the displacement of 55 families after attacks in al-Sa’diyah indicates that there are terrorist members who will threaten security in the future,” said Bajilan. “We have demanded new operations in Balad Ruz, and in southern Bahraz, Imam, Yas and in Hamrin Basin, areas known as main strongholds of armed groups, from Diyala’s Operational Command.”
As a result of these continued fears and renewed violence and displacements, attempts to draw home inhabitants who fled the province in recent years have failed says Ilais Muhammad Abdallah, head of the province’s displacement committee. Abdallah warned against a new “reverse migration” with returning families being threatened once more by armed groups and being forced to flee for a second time.
A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, blamed the deterioration in security conditions on “the inability of security leaders to prevent armed groups returning to these areas and the deployment of an insufficient number of troops.”
“Any talk on government troops withdrawing before the entire city has been cleaned of al-Qaeda and other armed groups is evidently a defeat for the government in its war against terrorism in Diyala,” he declared.
In light of these developments the announcement of the arrest of Umm al-Mu’mineen, labeled a “guardian of al-Qaeda’s secrets” by officials (the first woman to carry such a leading position), as well as that of the husband of Rania Muhammad Ibrahim, a suicide bomber, who recruited a number of female suicide bombers were not positively received by the people of Diyala. These successes were accompanied by a number of arbitrary arrests which enraged many said tribal leader Sheikh Nasser al-Hathal.
“Security improvements are only temporary despite the government’s efforts,” said al-Hathal, adding that “the pace of violence, sectarian displacements and the emergence of new armed groups is clear evidence that statements diffused by the media on the liberation of Diyala and its deliverance from terrorism are simply not true.”
For its part, the al-Fadhila Party, which has described operation Bashaer al-Khair as a “media and rhetorical festival,” has blamed the government for the return of violence, following confusion which led to the release of alleged al-Qaeda leaders on the basis that there was insufficient evidence against them.