Scores Killed In Suicide Attack On Western Iraq Town

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BAGHDAD — At least 11 people were killed when a suicide bomber blew up a vehicle in the town of al-Qaim in west­ern Iraq on Wednesday, police said.

Five of those killed were security personnel, police Captain Mahmud Jassem told AFP. The 9 am (0600 GMT) bombing at a checkpoint on the out­skirts of Al-Qaim also wounded 16 people others.

The town, on the Syrian border some 340 kilometres (215 miles) from Baghdad, was one of the last in Iraq to be recaptured from the Islamic State group in November last year.

One month later, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the jihadists.

But since then, the security forces have announced a number of campaigns to flush out holdout IS fighters from sparsely populated areas from which they have continued to mount attacks.

The vast desert that straddles the border with Syria on either side of the Eu­phrates valley town of al-Qaim has been one the jihadists’ principal hideouts.

At the height of the group’s power its self-proclaimed caliphate stretched from the edges of Aleppo in Syria to just north of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

With its physical caliphate largely destroyed, the Islamic State movement is transforming from a “proto-state” to a covert “terrorist” network, “a process that is most advanced in Iraq” because it still controls pockets in Syria, ac­cording to a UN report.

The report, penned by UN experts, said the Islamic State group still may have up to 30,000 members roughly equally dis­tributed between Syria and Iraq, and its global network poses a rising threat.

It said that despite the near-defeat of IS in Iraq and most of Syria, it is like­ly that a reduced “covert version” of the militant group’s “core” will survive in both countries, with significant affili­ated supporters in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.

The estimate of between 20,000 and 30,000 members includes “a significant component of the many thousands of active foreign terrorist fighters,” it said.

While many IS fighters, planners and commanders have been killed in fighting, and many other fighters and supporters have left the immediate conflict zone, the experts said many still remain in the two countries — some engaged militarily “and others hiding out in sympathetic communi­ties and urban areas.”

The experts said the discipline im­posed by IS remains intact and IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “remains in author­ity” despite reports that he was injured.

“It is just more delegated than before, by necessity, to the wider net­work outside the conflict zone,” the ex­perts said. The flow of foreign fighters to IS in Syria and Iraq has come to a halt, they said, but “the reverse flow, although slower than expected, re­mains a serious challenge.”

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