Iraqi Army Col. Mohammed al-Dulaimi announces they have received 150 Iraqis suspected of being ISIS members from the Syrian Democratic Forces in Anbar province, Iraq, on February 21, 2019. Screenshot: Video submitted to Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) handed over 150 ISIS militants to the Iraqi Army near Anbar province on Thursday.
Iraqi Army Col. Mohammed al-Dulaimi said in video obtained by Rudaw that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) received the "150 Iraqis from the Syrian Democratic Forces north of the city of al-Qaim," 330 kilometers northwest of Baghdad.
The majority of the militants were Iraqis and had been detained by the SDF in Syria amid intensified clashes around ISIS's last bastion
in al-Baghouz. The area is east of the Euphrates River in Deir ez-Zor on the border with Iraq.
The handover process comes a day after the Iraqi Army and the extremist group's militants engaged in a clash in the Iraqi town of Haditha. Five ISIS militants were killed in the confrontation, Mabrook Hamid, the town’s mayor, confirmed to Rudaw on Wednesday night.
The future of the detainees is uncertain. ISF's treatment of suspected ISIS members has been criticized, particularly by survivors of ISIS atrocities who want justice and to learn where, for example, their kidnapped Yezidi family members may remain.
Baghdad has deployed troops to Iraq's border with Syria to block a potential ISIS retreat from the Syrian village of Baghouz, where the jihadists are making their last stand against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said his government is monitoring the border and the situation closely.
The Associated Press reported about 150 ISIS militants are still believed to be hunkered down in Baghouz. The US military describes them as “the most hardened ISIS fighters.”
On Monday, an unnamed US military official told CNN that more than 1,000 ISIS fighters have "likely" fled to Iraq's mountains and deserts carrying with them up to $200 million in cash in the last 6 months.
On Tuesday, the Abbas Combat Division, a Shiite paramilitary group, announced on its Facebook page that its medic teams had helped the Nakhib Police Center in Anbar transfer the bodies of six civilians murdered by ISIS militants in the mostly-desert province bordering Syria.
Haider al-Abadi, Iraq's former prime minister, declared the defeat of ISIS in Iraq in December 2017. However, the defeat has only been territorial. ISIS militants have reverted to their older, pre-'caliphate' insurgency tactics of hit-and-run, IEDs, and kidnappings.