Iraqi forces announced on Sunday the launch of new operations to liberate three provinces from ISIL. News of the offensive comes just two months after Baghdad declared victory over the extremists.
In an attempt to avoid a return to its previous form, military operations are set to target insurgent cells in eastern Kirkuk, the multi-ethnic town of Tuz Khurmato and the provinces of Diyala and Anbar.
General Abul Amir Yarallah said “it is vital to maintain security in eastern Kirkuk and in Tuz Khurmatu to ensure that displaced people are returned home safely.”
“Commanders from the Iraqi military, including the Hashed Al Shabi met on Sunday to discuss an operation to clear the areas,” he said in reference to the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs).
The operation aims to combat the so-called "White Flag" group that has been accused of conducting terrorist activities and targeting lawmakers in the northern regions of Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu. Last December, politicians in Kirkuk council accused the group of kidnapping 11 civilians and raiding homes in Tuz Khurmatu.
In addition to facing an ISIL security threat, Kirkuk province is also a disputed territory - vehemently contended by Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Although victory was announced against ISIL in December, prime minister Haider Al Abadi ordered security forces, last month, to eliminate “ISIL sleeper cells” and protect civilians.
Fanar Haddad, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore told The National that announcing triumph over ISIL "was never going to be a singular event and was always going to be a process."
“Waiting for a definitive end to the Islamic State [ISIL] before announcing victory would be as impractical as presuming that Islamic State [ISIL] (as an insurgency) would vanish into thin air after the liberation of Mosul,” Mr Haddad said.
Lawmaker, Aed Al Louayzi said “geographically, the territory has been retaken but not all the extremists have been arrested.”
Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington said the group will continue to pose a terror threat to the country.
However, "the fact that Iraqis successfully rebuffed a coordinated ISIS [ISIL] attack on Ramadi (Anbar province) in September without any foreign assistance shows they are far more capable now than before, even when they do not receive intelligence in advance," he told The National.
On Saturday the army launched an operation targeting ISIL fighters in Diyala, northeast of Baghdad.
General Mazhar Al Azawi said on Sunday that the “Iraqi army, police and Hashed Al Shaabi forces launched a wide scale operation aimed at destroying ISIL cells.”
“The offensive is part of the Tigris operations strategy to reassure residents that security is maintained in the province,” Gen Al Azzawi said.
In Anbar, troops began an offensive that stretched through the desert all the way to the Iraqi-Saudi border, Major General Mahmoud Al Falahi said.
Anbar's desert became ISIL's last stronghold after troops ousted the insurgents from surrounding areas.
“The fight against insurgency continues and goes beyond the full-on kinetic phase to address the many enabling structural factors behind Iraq’s insurgencies (corruption, illicit money, uneven state capacity, unemployment),” Mr Haddad said.
Meanwhile, the deputy US under-secretary of State John Sullivan said the "US-led coalition against ISIS will continue to support Iraqis to ensure that ISIS is dealt and enduring defeat."
"We look forward to further coordination of that level," Mr Sullivan said during his trip to Baghdad last week.