ISIL returns to Iraqi town, 24 hours after vacating it
BAGHDAD – Agence France-Presse
AP PhotoThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on March 14 returned to the desert town of Rutba in western Iraq, less than a day after vacating it and two other villages, officials said.
The mayor of the remote town in Anbar province had warned when ISIL pulled out that the jihadist organization may just be testing the population’s allegiance.
“Daesh [ISIL] has re-established its control on the city of Rutba... which it had left the previous day,” said a senior officer in the Jazeera Operations Command in charge of the area.
“Daesh came back from Al-Qaim with armored vehicles and artillery,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They deployed them on the outskirts of the town and at the main entrances, as if to defend it from any attack by the security forces,” he said.
“However, Daesh’s foreign leaders previously based in Rutba did not return,” he said.
Rutba lies about 390 kilometers west of Baghdad on the road to Jordan.
Imad Ahmed, the town’s mayor, said “it was like a trick played by ISIL on the locals.”
He had told AFP after ISIL’s pullout on March 13 that the jihadist group may be trying to lure out members of the population secretly cooperating with the security forces.
On March 13, the jihadist organization’s leadership ordered its fighters out of Hit, Kubaysa and Rutba, prompting thousands of civilians to take to the road to meet advancing federal forces while others enjoyed their first hours of freedom in months.
“The majority of Daesh fighters in Hit, Rutba and Kubaysa have fled through the desert to other regions,” Yahya Rasool, Iraq’s top security spokesman, told AFP.
Hit, around 145 kilometers west of Baghdad, was one of the main towns in Anbar province that was still held by ISIL.
Kubaysa is a smaller town to the west of Hit.
“There is an operation to hunt them down with Iraqi aircraft,” said Rasool, spokesman for the Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight against ISIL in Iraq.