In October 2017, Iraqi forces captured the town of Hawija from the Islamic State, taking back one of the militant group’s last remaining strongholds. But now, ISIS has regrouped in the area and continues to terrorize residents. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Simona Foltyn recently traveled near Hawija to find out how much control the militants continue to assert over the civilian population for this report in cooperation with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.
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SIMONA FOLTYN: ISIS is making a comeback in Iraq and so far the government has failed to stop it. In my last report, I accompanied Iraqi Security Forces as they tried to clear remote, mountainous areas where ISIS militants have regrouped. These clean up operations were largely ineffective. The government troops known as the emergency response division were used to fighting a conventional war against ISIS. They struggled to adapt to ISIS' guerilla tactics. Despite days of security forces searching, the militants remained elusive. But just because the government can't find them doesn't mean that ISIS isn't there.
To find out just how much control the militants have managed to assert over civilians, I travel to rural areas near the Sunni town of Hawija. Hawija was an ISIS stronghold for three years, and was one of the last towns security forces freed in october 2017. Soon after, the government declared victory over ISIS in Iraq. Much of Hawija was destroyed in the fighting, and is still abandoned. But people around here say ISIS was never defeated. Like many other civilians, this family spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Less than a year after Hawija was retaken by the Iraqi Government, ISIS has regrouped and is terrorizing the population.