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Iraqi authorities nab Islamic State 'governor' of Fallujah

Abu Ali al-Jumaili's arrest comes as Kurdish-led forces captured another IS official across the border in Syria.
SABAH ARAR/AFP via Getty Images

Iraq’s intelligence services captured the Islamic State’s governor of Fallujah in an operation coordinated with security forces of the country’s Kurdistan Region, Iraq’s military said Monday.

The US-led coalition to defeat IS confirmed the arrest following an statement by Iraq’s Security Media Cell.

Iraqi police named the so-called governor as Abu Ali al-Jumaili. He was captured in the city wearing an explosive suicide belt, Iraqi authorities said.

The security forces said he confessed to working with IS in both Iraq and Syria and admitted involvement in IS attacks against Iraq’s security forces and civilians.

Al-Jumaili was previously imprisoned in Iraq in 2005 for affiliation with al-Qaeda before being released in 2011, having served only six years of a 15-year sentence, Rudaw news reported. Upon returning from Syria, he was appointed IS’ deputy governor of Mosul before being given command of Fallujah in Anbar province.

Al-Jumaili’s arrest coincides with the capture of another IS figure across the border in Syria. An IS official responsible for recruitment, networking and local assassinations was arrested in Syria’s eastern Deir ez-Zor province with aerial surveillance provided by the US-led coalition.

Two years after the US-backed capture of IS’ final holdout along the Euphrates River on Syria’s border with Iraq, Arav-majority Deir ez-Zor province continues to suffer assassinations by suspected IS sleeper cells.

Both Iraq’s security forces and the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces continue to round up underground IS suspects with US support. The two forces are increasingly capable of handling counter-IS operations on their own, the US military has assessed.

But despite the progress of the US-led train-and-equip effort since 2014, Iraq’s security forces are not fully ready to stand on their own, the US intelligence community believes.

Iraqi security forces “probably will maintain counter-ISIS operations absent coalition support for at least 1 year, although coordination among the various ISF elements probably will be inconsistent,” Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, wrote in a written testimony to Congress last week.

Berrier added that Iraqi forces “will be unlikely to fully employ” their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities without US support.

With the twilight of the war against IS’ jihadist caliphate and attempts to cool tensions with Iran’s proxy militias in the region, the administration of President Joe Biden is looking to reduce US engagement in the Middle East to focus on a rising China.

US forces are set to withdraw from Afghanistan by September, ending US involvement in the longest conflict in American history. US policy in Syria remains under review by administration officials but there are currently no plans for the 2,500 troops in Iraq to pull out, head of US forces in the Middle East Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie said this month.

The US military presence contracted significantly in Iraq last year. The coalition handed over eight bases to Iraqi security forces as the coronavirus pandemic and rocket attacks by Iran-linked militias hastened the end of hands-on training for Iraq’s security forces.

McKenzie said last week that CENTCOM is willing and capable to continue counterterror operations in Iraq by troops based outside the country if ordered to do so. A similar plan is in place for Afghanistan under McKenzie’s supervision.

NATO officials have said they will to significantly expand the alliance’s separate training mission for Iraq’s security forces as the United States draws down in Iraq. Some 4,000 NATO troops have been promised for the mission's expansion but it will likely require additional US support.