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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Hundreds of ISIS fighters 'trying to cross into Iraq from Syria'

The security warning from Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi follows renewed clashes between Daesh and Kurdish forces in Syria

An Iraqi Shiite fighter of the Hashed Al Shaabi paramilitary force stands guard at a border position in Al Qaim in Iraq's Anbar province. AFP
An Iraqi Shiite fighter of the Hashed Al Shaabi paramilitary force stands guard at a border position in Al Qaim in Iraq's Anbar province. AFP

Hundreds of ISIS fighters are trying to cross into Iraq from Syria, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday, following a recent visit to the headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Command.

Less than a month after assuming office the newly-appointed prime minister is dealing with the legacy of Iraq's war against ISIS in the form of insurgent attacks and returning fighters.

According to Mr Abdul Mahdi the extremists are gearing up to recapture territory they lost to the Iraqi military during the latter's three-year battle against the extremist group.

However, he told reporters, "Iraqi forces are carrying out their duties to pre-empt any attempts by ISIS to infiltrate the border and cross into Iraq”.

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"For now the immediate threat has been handled," a commander with the Iraqi militia Hashed Al Shaabi told The National in a telephone conversation from the border. His unit recently thwarted an ISIS attempt to enter Iraq in pick-up trucks.

"My forces are always on alert and ready to intercept any potential incursion," said the commander, who asked to remain anonymous.

The coalition estimates 2,000 ISIS fighters remain in the Hajin pocket near the border with Iraq.

In late October the Iraqi military began tightening security on the porous border, following the Defence Ministry's warning of a possible ISIS infiltration. The ministry dropped leaflets in an attempt to warn the local population of possible incursions.

The heightened security warning follows weeks of clashes between ISIS and Kurdish-led forces in Syria - suggesting the extremists are looking to shift eastward across the border into Iraq's vast Anbar region, in an attempt to regroup.

In early November ISIS killed 12 US-backed fighters in a surprise attack from the extremists' holdout on the Iraqi border. Twelve fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed and 20 wounded in a suicide car bombing and subsequent clashes in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In August a UN report claimed there were still as many as 30,000 ISIS members in Syria and Iraq, a far higher number than previously estimated. Since the official defeat of ISIS in December 2017 the group has reverted to insurgent tactics in a series of deadly attacks.