Death entered the house of Jabbar Alwan one night in December, when ISIS elements attacked his village in central Iraq, killing policemen, soldiers, and civilians, including his son, grandson, and two cousins, according to his account.
With its quiet fields, the village of Albu Bali, located seventy kilometers north of Baghdad, was living in peace, according to what Sheikh Khalis Rashid, the most prominent notable of the village of five thousand people, told AFP, adding, “The village lived in general on agriculture, but It has doctors and staff.
However, this calm evaporated in mid-December, when a group of ISIS operatives was spotted on an agricultural road leading to the village.
Five years ago, the Iraqi government declared a military “victory” over the jihadists, and since then, major attacks have been absent from Iraq, but cells of the organization are still launching operations, intermittently, against the security forces and civilians.
Abbas Mazhar Hussain, a 34-year-old resident of the village, says that at “8:15 in the evening, shooting started randomly…and there were martyrs and wounded.”
Eight people were killed in the attack and six others were wounded, all of them civilians, including the son, grandson, and two cousins of Jabbar Alwan, who lives on a farm on the outskirts of the village.
“The feeling is very painful, we did not expect this,” says the old man, with tears in his eyes.
As for his neighbor, Ali Manwar, he still bears scars on his neck from bullets that pierced him during the attack. “I heard gunshots, I went out and saw my nephew lying on the ground,” he says.
While Ali Minwar was closing his gate to protect himself from the attack, the ISIS operatives fired their bullets. One of them scratched his neck, and the other penetrated the stone wall of his house, leaving small holes the size of a coin each.
The attackers easily fled after the attack.
Fear of reprisals
Like the majority of Iraqis, the residents of Albu Bali belong to the Shiite sect that extremists of the Islamic State view as “blasphemy.”
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on the village.
In a statement they posted on the “Telegram” application, the jihadists did not mention civilians, but rather said that they had targeted “apostate Rafidite militias,” referring to the Popular Mobilization Forces, an alliance of armed factions allied to Iran that have become part of official institutions.
The attack sparked terror in a country still recovering from decades of war.
Sheikh Khalis Rashid says that Prime Minister Muhammad Shia’a al-Sudani “contacted me and said that what I ask is to refrain from any reaction” to ward off violence.
There is a fear that the Shiite population will carry out reprisals in some neighboring Sunni villages, whose residents they accuse of being lenient with the presence of the Islamic State in the area.
“Terrorists hide in rural areas and continue to carry out sporadic attacks,” says a colonel in the Iraqi police who preferred not to be identified.
Uday al-Khadran, the mayor of the Khalis district where Albu Bali is located, explains that the area has become a “transit area” for jihadists.
He adds that “the border is not maintained” between his province, Diyala, and the neighboring province of Salah al-Din, and has turned into a corridor towards the “unsafe” areas of the Kurdistan region, as he says.
According to a UN Security Council report published in July 2022, the organization has “between six thousand and ten thousand fighters deployed” between Syria and Iraq, most of whom are concentrated in rural areas, and it is estimated that “most of them are Syrian and Iraqi citizens.”
Al-Khadran added, “ISIS is a gang operation. Today, ISIS is not conducting military operations.”
He says that “the breach did not occur as a result of the weakness of the security forces,” but rather because their numbers were not sufficient.
After the attack, about 200 additional members of the army, police and the popular crowd were deployed in the area, and surveillance cameras were installed in Albu Bali, according to the police colonel.
Nevertheless, Jabbar Alwan still fears “another attack,” and says, “This is not the last.”