Iraqi tribal fighter killed in blast at checkpoint in Diyala

Attack occurred in province where tension is simmering between residents and Iran-backed groups

Iraqi forces patrolling a village in Diyala, the province where the latest attack took place. AFP
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At least one pro-Iraqi government Sunni fighter was killed in an explosive device attack at a checkpoint in Khan Beni Saad, about 50km north of Baghdad, officials and security sources said early on Sunday.

The Sahwa tribal force fighter was killed and six others injured in the attack, five of them Iraqi soldiers.

The Iraqi Security Media Cell, an official body responsible for disseminating security information, said two explosive devices were detonated near the checkpoint on Saturday evening.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the fatal blast, although ISIS remains active in Diyala province and in January, Iraqi forces said the head of the group in the governorate had been killed in an air strike.

Diyala province was once a hotbed of Al Qaeda and later ISIS activity, but violence there has been sporadic and since the almost total defeat of ISIS following the 2017 battle of Mosul.

In 2015, a bomb at a marketplace, later claimed by ISIS, in the town killed 130 people.

The situation in the province, sometimes described as a “mini-Iraq” due to its mix of Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni communities, remains tense amid the ascendancy of Iran-backed militias linked to the government in Baghdad.

The Sahwa is a Sunni militia force established by the US during the height of the war on Al Qaeda in Iraq between 2006 and 2008. Al Qaeda in Iraq later morphed into ISIS.

The Sahwa is credited with significantly reducing violence across Iraq but was largely dismantled by former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki as sectarian tensions roiled the country, contributing to the rise of ISIS.

Some Sunni armed militias opposed to ISIS are still referred to as Sahwa, while others have been incorporated into an alliance of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).

In Diyala, the most powerful political groups with armed paramilitaries in the PMF are the Badr Organisation and Asaib Ahl Al Haq, both of which have seats in the current government.

Updated: May 26, 2024, 7:06 PM