The Iraqi forces had just re-started the sweep through the Jazeera desert of Anbar and Syria when Prime Minister Haidar Abadi announced victory over the Islamic State. Unfortunately, the premier’s declaration took precedent, and the operation was never completed undermining Abadi’s claim.
The Jazeera operation was aimed at clearing the huge desert and rural region of Anbar, Ninewa, and Salahaddin. By November 26, the first phase was completed with 176 villages cleared, 50% of the desert gone through, and a berm was being built along the Iraq-Syrian border. There was then a week pause during which it was reported that units from the security forces began leaving. Progress was fast, and there was barely any fighting as it was believed most of the IS elements fled to Syria or other parts of Iraq before the campaign even started.
December 8, the operation restarted. In just one day the security forces claimed they went through 7,000 kilometers. The next day, a Hashd commander said that the government was in full control of the Iraq-Syrian border and the Jazeera campaign was over. That coincided with Prime Minister Abadi claiming that the Islamic State was defeated. Even if the Iraqi forces’ statements are taken at face value and they were able to sweep through 7,000 kilometers that would still leave approximately the same amount uncleared. It seems that victory was declared short of the campaign actually being completed so that the premier could make his announcement. This has been a major shortcoming of the war against the insurgents. Too many times the security forces say they have freed an area before they actually have.
The Islamic State has been defeated on the battlefield. It no longer controls any towns or cities in Iraq. It has transitioned back to an insurgency however, and is working to rebuild its cadres in the rural, desert and mountainous regions of the country. That was the reason why the Jazeera operation was so important because militants had been working in the vast area for years. In order to keep the group down its camps and sanctuaries in places like Jazeera need to be cleared, and a permanent presence created to stop it from returning. Unfortunately, political expediency took precedent over finishing this important task.
Agence France Presse, “Iraq faces tough battle against IS desert hideouts,” 11/27/17
AIN, “Yarallah announces the clearing of 7,000 km in 2nd phase of Western Sahara,” 12/8/17
Al Mada, “The sluggishness of the operations command in Anbar means aborting the desert cleansing,” 12/1/17
Al Mirbad, “The end of the first page of the second phase of the Jazeera and Euphrates operation,” 11/26/17
NINA, “New Ten Villages Cleaned Up In Anbar Province,” 12/8/17
- “URGENT…The PMF Announces The Completion Of Military Operations And Full Control of Iraqi-Syrian Border,” 12/9/17
Rudaw, “Iraq launches ISIS desert offensive, Russia offers help,” 12/8/17
Al Sumaria, “Purged 35 villages and 4300 km in the 2nd phase of Jazeera and Upper Euphrates Operation,” 12/8/17
Zavis, Alexandra, “Iraq’s prime minister declares victory in war against Islamic State,” Los Angeles Times, 12/9/17