Lebanon declares truce to pave way for release of ISIL-held troops as Syrian army and Hezbollah halt separate campaign.
Iraqis have denounced a Hezbollah and Syria-backed deal allowing fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group to evacuate a Syrian-Lebanese frontier region towards the Iraqi border.
Hundreds of fighters started leaving the area on Monday, heading by bus for Syria’s eastern province of Deir Az Zor, which borders Iraq and is the only Syrian province still under ISIL control.
Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, said on that Tuesday the deal was “unacceptable” and an “insult to the Iraqi people”.
He said Iraq was battling the fighters, not sending them to Syria.
Iraqi forces, who retook Mosul from ISIL in July after a nine-month battle, are fighting the last pocket of fighters in the northern province of Nineveh.
Abadi has said Iraqi forces expected to announce victory in the city of Tal Afar within days.
That would see ISIL dislodged from all but a few scattered Iraqi towns – including several close to the border with Syria’s Deir Az Zor.
Iraqi social media users expressed outrage at the evacuation deal, which came a week into a Lebanese army offensive against ISIL and a joint Syrian army-Hezbollah operation against the group on Syrian territory.
In a video posted on Facebook, activist Stephen Nabil called it an “injustice”.
He said it would allow hundreds of fighters to deploy along an “insecure” border, close to three Iraqi desert towns still under ISIL control.
“These are not normal people, and we know what a single car [bomb] or one suicide bomber can do in Baghdad,” he wrote.
On Monday, an ISIL-claimed bombing in the Iraqi capital killed 11 people.
Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi analyst, called the evacuation deal “unjust”.
“The selfish ally is throwing Daesh from Lebanon into Iraq,” he said in a Facebook post, using an Arabic acronym for the group.
“They know that Iraqis destroyed their second biggest city [Mosul] so that Daesh fighters would not escape and Iraq’s neighbours would not be harmed.”
Lebanon’s victory over ISIL
In the meantime, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun officially declared victory over ISIL on Wednesday.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from Beirut, said that Aoun had several reasons to wait a few days to declare victory despite the ceasefire being announced on Sunday.
“Even after the armed operation was over the army still had to go into the areas it had cleared to make sure there was no weaponry left behind,” Jamjoom said. “They had to make sure the places were safe potentially for civilians to return.”
Lebanese soldiers are now stationed at the border area where ISIL was, which is around 300 square kilometres.
“The other reason was the sensitivity of this issue,” Jamjoom said, explaining that the army did not want to appear callous to the families of the nine Lebanese soldiers kidnapped by ISIL and declare an outright victory.
Eight of the nine bodies were found and believed to be of those soldiers, but the government is waiting for DNA testing which will take several weeks before confirming to the public, Jamjoom said.