ISIS seeks to exploit the pandemic to revive Iraq and Syria

CNN Exclusive: Iraqi spy chief warns of ISIS resurgence

ISIS has increased its attacks as Iraqi security forces have been diverted to applying a curfew aimed at preventing the spread of the pandemic and maintaining stability, a senior US-led coalition official told CNN reported. .

A United States defense official also told CNN that ISIS has increased its attacks in recent weeks, trying to capitalize on instability.

While both officials said that the sophistication of ISIS attacks has not increased, the top coalition official said “there has been a slight increase in the amount of activity.”

There is also concern about how the Iraqi government will maintain stability by continuing to pursue the remains of ISIS as oil prices have plummeted dramatically in recent weeks. Baghdad is extremely dependent on oil revenues to finance its expenses, including workers’ wages in its broad public sector.

“Even before the collapse in oil prices, Iraq had some stabilization problems,” a senior coalition official told CNN.

After months of political uncertainty and anti-government protests, the Iraqi parliament voted Wednesday to approve a new government led by former intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to the new prime minister on Wednesday and welcomed the formation of his government.

“It is nice to speak today with the new Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Now comes the hard and urgent work of implementing the reforms requested by the Iraqi people. I have pledged to help him complete his bold agenda for the good of the people. Iraqi, “Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

Although Iraq has been plagued by instability and faces a serious funding shortage, the coalition’s senior official noted that ISIS has some of its financial challenges, demonstrated by the fact that many of its recent attacks have been aimed at strengthening its resources.

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“Much intelligence suggests that various ISIS lower-level leaders in the provinces are really focusing on the type of attacks that would have had resources, such as kidnapping for ransom and that kind of thing, and are getting lesser amounts of money than they had in in the past, still real money being generated but not enough to support it, “said the official.

Resized missions

But the amount of pressure exerted by Iraqi and coalition forces is no longer what it once was, as many of the missions have been downsized or adapted due to the concerns of the coronavirus.

Coalition troops are no longer accompanying US-backed Iraqi units or Syrian democratic forces during raids on ISIS targets due to the pandemic.

Those missions were still taking place in March when two American Marines were killed in an intense gunfight during an assault on an ISIS cave complex in northern Iraq.
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“In the pre-Covid world those (types of missions) continued,” said the senior official, adding that “in today’s Covid world those aren’t happening.”

The official said that if a sufficiently high ISIS target is identified, these missions could be reignited.

“If there was a fairly important target, a type of Baghdadi raid, of course we would go out there and do something like this with our partners or potentially even unilaterally,” the official said referring to former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al -Baghdadi, who was killed in an American military raid in northwestern Syria in October.

Baghdadi’s death “had a substantial effect” on ISIS, according to the official, who said that the killing of the terrorist group leader “probably had a slightly more substantial effect than we would have anticipated in advance. that Baghdadi was a bit more isolated, but after examining the network, we saw that it was actually providing influence and direction to the entire ISIS network. “

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The official said that prior to the coronavirus break, the U.S.-led military coalition and its Syrian and Iraqi allies had been successful in targeting mid-level ISIS leaders, claiming that the group’s average leadership “had been really decimated “and that these individuals were difficult to replace.

But the question remains whether ISIS will be able to use the coronavirus ceasefire to replenish its ranks.

While the coalition is still providing advice to the highest levels of the Iraqi army, helping to coordinate airstrikes and intelligence sharing, other advisory efforts closer to the borders have been reduced due to the coronavirus challenge.

Bases closed

Several bases from which US and coalition troops operated have been closed or handed over to Iraqis.

And while a coalition spokesman said at that time that the bases had been closed “following the success of Iraqi security forces in their fight against ISIS,” the coalition official told CNN that the closings were taking place months. foreground and were largely due to the impact of the coronavirus.

The original plan was to close many of those bases in the fall or early 2021, the official said.

Coalition advisers now need to work with their Iraqi counterparts by telephone or video conference call.

Another activity that has been paused is the coalition’s efforts to train Iraqi troops.

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“In fact, it was paused by the Iraqis. They paused that training mission because of Covid. They didn’t want field forces on large groups to do training, as you can imagine. We did the same thing in the context of the United States back, “said the senior coalition official.

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Due to that training break, the coalition decided to send hundreds of international military trainers home, who were now out of work.

“They really wouldn’t have done much here. That’s why the training mission started,” said the official.

And while the coronavirus is having a strong impact on the Iraqi government and the coalition, the official said that ISIS is also experiencing the effects of the pandemic.

“Covid is also having a substantial impact on their operations. We see in the report that ISIS is actually concerned with managing its own supply and logistics lines and spreading Covid among their forces, the same type of thing we have to deal with,” said the official.

And the coalition was able to continue airstrikes, with British jets from the Royal Air Force Typhoon killing around 5-10 fighters in a strike in an ISIS cave complex in northern Iraq later this month. last.

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