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ICC Note: The difficultly of militarily overcoming ISIS militants was further complicated by the number of tunnels that ISIS dug across the territories it once held. Even after ISIS’s defeat, these tunnels continue to be discovered and in some instances, militants have been found hiding inside. In the Nineveh Plains alone, a predominately Christian province, over a dozen new tunnels have been discovered within the last few months. This is yet another challenge that displaced Christians face when attempting to return home.

06/08/2018 Iraq (Iraqi Thoughts) – There is a tragic irony in the fact that in many countries around the world, losing close to a hundred civilians to terrorism and armed conflict in a single month would be deeply troubling, yet in Iraq it is seen as part of a positive trend. That said, it is hard not to receive the latest United Nations casualty figures for the month of May (at least 95 killed and 163 wounded) in a very favorable light. This outlook makes more sense when those numbers are compared to UN figures from May 2017 (354 killed, 470 wounded) and May 2016 (867 killed, 1,459 wounded). Iraq is currently experiencing its lowest levels of violence for nearly a decade, with security and intelligence forces working tirelessly to maintain this new status quo.

Da’ish does not seem desperate to confront Iraqi forces just yet, and have stuck to small-scale attacks across central and western Iraq. However, the Shu’la suicide bombing in northwestern Baghdad on the 24th of May spelled the first major terror attack in the capital since January and served as a deadly reminder that any security lapse can still have a deadly outcome. While it was initially reported that the suicide bomber, who detonated his vest after being cornered by security personnel near a public garden, only killed four civilians, hospital sources later reported that the figure could be as high as twelve.

Low levels of violence over the last few weeks should still be viewed as a major victory as Iraq witnessed its fifth election and the start of the holy month of Ramadhan, two events that have usually meant a certain degree of bloodshed. Salafist terror groups such as Da’ish and Al-Qaeda have historically ushered in the holy month with campaigns of violence and carnage against their enemies. Their inability to disrupt the elections in Iraq was a major sign of just how crippled the terror organization is. Apart from a failed assault against a military checkpoint in southwestern Kirkuk, election day passed in Iraq with relative calm, if we ignore the violent protests that took place in Sulaymaniyah hours after polling stations closed due to the forecasted victory of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

More amusingly, Da’ish militants across the country seem to have found solace underground in Iraq. Over the last few months, Iraqi Security Forces have unearthed more than a hundred tunnel systems in various provinces that Da’ish once proudly claimed as part of their “caliphate”. Most of these networks were built as part of a contingency plan drawn up by Da’ish leadership during their occupation of the upper third of the country, as a mainstay of their fortifications against the Iraqi liberation offensives. They were built to give Da’ish the ability to circumvent Iraqi forces during battles and also allowed them to easily retreat once air support arrived. Iraqi troops during the liberation of Anbar, Salahuddin and Ninawa provinces regularly faced grueling assaults that seemed to come out of nowhere and end abruptly, with the assailants seemingly vanishing into thin air, as they scurried back down the tunnels.

Da’ish used civilians to build many of their tunnel systems across northern Iraq in preparation for the battle of Mosul, by either offering them a salary of $2 a day or forcing them to dig up to 10 metres of tunnel as punishment for offences such as smoking cigarettes.

Today, these tunnels serve as homes, command centres and staging areas for Da’ish militants still licking their wounds from the successive defeats they suffered over the last two and a half years.

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