Iraq revisiting security plan for Syrian border at Baghouz

Following the liberation of the Syrian border town of Baghouz, Baghdad is planning a new border control strategy to make sure no terrorists find their way into Iraq.

al-monitor The al-Qaim gate is closed at the border between Iraq and Syria at al-Qaim in Iraq, Nov. 27, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani.
Mustafa Saadoun

Mustafa Saadoun

@SaadoonMustafa

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Islamic State

Apr 24, 2019

The Iraqi government is working on a new plan to beef up security and protect its border with Syria to keep terrorists from crossing over. This way, Iraqis can benefit from the recent liberation of Baghouz, Syria, from the Islamic State (IS) and the control of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) over the area.

In Baghdad's eyes, securing the border is a major step toward restoring security and stability in Iraq. The government hasn't had total control of the border area for the past 15 years. The Iraqi parliament’s Security and Defense Committee warned of the dangerous situation there, as IS members might try to conduct attacks in Iraq. For this reason, the committee recommended on April 16 buying more thermographic cameras.

Committee member Abbas al-Ismaili confirmed during a press conference that day that terrorist groups plan to take advantage of border areas that lack strong security "to coordinate attacks on Iraqi territory and create a state of chaos.”

Iraq's border with Syria extends some 605 kilometers (376 miles), running from the western province of Anbar, northeast to Ninevah governorate until it reaches Turkey. Since 2003, the border has been a source of danger, especially when IS controlled Anbar and Ninevah, giving the terrorist group room to move freely between Syria and Iraq.

Yet in March, once the village of Baghouz was freed from IS, Iraq was relieved and felt it no longer had to worry constantly about the area. Although the SDF forces that took over weren't part of the Syrian army, Iraq still had an understanding with them.

A security source told Al-Monitor, “The Iraqi government is in contact with the SDF, which controls part of the border. The issues between the SDF and the Syrian government don't obstruct coordination with the Iraqi side.”

The SDF has worked with the US-led alliance against IS. The security source added, “The international alliance plays a big role in facilitating communication and coordination between Iraqi government forces and the SDF to secure the border.” This was evident when the SDF turned over some IS captives to the Iraqi government. 

The Baghouz border with Iraq is 80 kilometers (50 miles) long. The Iraqi government worked to secure this area about a month ago, setting up thermographic cameras, watch towers at close intervals, and barbed wire.

With the latest developments in Baghouz, Falih al-Fayadh, chairman of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and head of the National Security Council, announced additional measures to secure the Iraqi-Syrian border. According to Fayadh, this project is “important and [will] incorporate technical and engineering aspects" that will be implemented this year.

Gen. Yahya Rassoul, spokesman for the government-linked Iraqi Security Media Center, told Al-Monitor, “The border with Syria is secured and controlled by the Iraqi army, the border police and the [PMU].” He added, “Technology was included in the process of monitoring the border and securing it through setting up surveillance cameras and [using drones]. The army’s aviation team runs scanning operations to clear the area. Tunnels and earth barriers are also set. Arms have been distributed and the efforts of watch towers have been reinforced.”

Qassem Moslih, PMU commander in western Anbar, talked to Etejah Press about the need to maintain security at the Syrian border. "There are sleeping terrorist cells in these areas. They are starting to move, so it is important to seriously neutralize and fight them," he said.

Gen. Mahmoud al-Falahi, the Iraq army's operations commander in Anbar province at the Syrian border, said in a press statement, “The Iraqi security forces are watching the terrorist activities inside Syria to block them from infiltrating Iraq. This is part of the new operation strategies Iraqi forces are following to secure the border.”

Fadhil Abu Raghaf, an independent security expert, told Al-Monitor, “It's difficult to entirely secure the border. It's too long. … There are also unfriendly forces at the border which are obstructing communications.” Abu Raghaf, who is close to Iraqi security forces, said Iraq now has only 80 thermographic cameras, enough to cover only 3% of the border with Syria.

The stability Baghouz now enjoys will help reassure the Iraqi government of the decrease in the number of IS members going back and forth to Iraq. It also contributes to restoring Iraqi border police and any forces supporting them from the army or PMU.

In conclusion, Iraq is still developing its operation to secure the border. The government has set up barbed wire, watchtowers and underground tunnels. Yet all of this is not enough without employing sophisticated technology, rather than relying on intelligence information.

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