Video credits: Ruptly and AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The aftershocks triggered by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS; formerly ISIS/ISIL) can still be felt across Iraq, even though it's been over a year since the Iraqi government declared final victory over IS fighters in the country.
Fears of an IS comeback are only made more real as a trail of victims is left behind - killings, kidnappings and abductions are making their way back into the headlines, suggesting they are a new IS tactic to instill fear among Iraqi civilians.
Nidaa Syan Najem lost her son and husband as she witnessed one such attack on July 5, 2018, when she and her family were returning home after a wedding party. At an unmanned checkpoint on the road between the town of Behruz (25 kilometers from the capital) and Baghdad, the family's car was surrounded by masked gunmen. The situation escalated as family members admitted they were Shiites.
After all the men present were killed, the women tried to reach out for help, but it was a long wait, according to Najem.
She added that upon their arrival, security forces claimed that the checkpoint where the tragic incident took place was manned and the road secured from both sides.
Bassem Abbas is the brother of yet another man killed by IS in Kirkuk. He found himself in direct negotiations with IS, who had abducted his brother and demanded that the Iraqi government release a female Sunni prisoner in return.
He stressed that the threat IS still poses in Iraq is real. Like Najem, Abbas believes the Iraqi authorities are failing to confront that threat.
On July 23, Kurdish security forces killed gunmen armed with AK-47 and grenades who stormed a government building in Erbil, with one of them carrying out a suicide bombing. The attack was blamed on IS.
Although other incidents, including the July 5 checkpoint attack, were not as high profile as the one in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, those left behind beseech the authorities to take simple measures to secure the lives of civilians amidst the spate of attacks.
Despite a plethora of similar reports against the backdrop of ongoing operations against IS, Iraqi Army officials insist the organisation has been defeated and play down the fears of a comeback.
According to a UN report, dated 16 July, 2018: "Despite the damage to bureaucratic structures of the so-called "caliphate," the collective discipline of IS is "intact" and so are its "general security and finance bureaus."
The battles in the field, with IS resorting to guerrilla tactics to launch its attacks, are only one of the components of the struggle against the organisation. As Rasoul says, there are still those who adhere to the IS ideology, and the fight against that requires a concerted effort by the army, the government and civil society.
Last month, the US Pentagon said it estimated that at least 17,000 IS fighters are still operating in Iraq – a figure backed by the United Nations. If true, then Najem, Abbas and al-Shammari's mother might not be the last Iraqis to mourn losing their loved ones to the hands of IS ‘remnants’.