On November 17th, 2017, the Iraqi Army’s 7th and 8th Divisions crossed the Euphrates at 7:30 a.m. local time and stormed the town of Rawa in Western Anbar. The fighting would last roughly five hours and the liberation of the town would represent the erasure of the so-called Caliphate due to Rawa being the last urban stronghold under the control of ISIS since 2014. Freeing Rawa meant that the so-called Islamic State had been defeated militarily in Iraq. With the bulk of the terrorist forces pulling back northwards towards Badia Ba’aj, a steppe that is roughly 22,000 km2 in size and stretches from just south of the town of Ba’aj in Ninawa province to parts of the Euphrates river in Western Anbar, it had become necessary to launch a follow-up operation to destroy the terrorists’ hideouts deep in the desert.
Many wonder what comes next. The security situation in Iraq has slowly improved in recent years, thanks to coordination between local law enforcement and military intelligence to facilitate the capture of weapons bound for ISIS sleepers as well as neutralizing attacks as quickly as possible before the group inflicts maximum casualties. In liberated areas, ISIS has already reverted to insurgent tactics meant to harass local forces, but they are unable to regain control of villages due to the quick responsiveness of local Popular Mobilization Units after they are contacted by local residents. Ultimately, counter insurgency operations will serve as an effective method of degrading ISIS capabilities to the point that they will no longer pose a threat in each province (Ninawa, Salah al-Din, Diyala, Anbar).