QAIM, Iraq — Across the rocky and grass-speckled desert of western Anbar, it is white truffle season. Locals can be seen scanning the ground in search of truffles, along the road that stretches from Haditha to Qaim and then the Syrian border. Yet, in recent weeks, a rash of kidnappings and killings of truffle hunters has marred this seasonal tradition and raised concerns of Islamic State (IS) sleeper cells.
On Feb. 18, 12 men from Anbar, Karbala and Najaf were kidnapped while picking truffles in the al-Nukhaib district of southern Anbar province. The next day, six bodies were reportedly found in same area, which is close to the Iraqi border with Saudi Arabia.