Iraq has begun the construction of a security fence along its border with Syria to stop ISIL members from crossing into the country, according to local officials.
The frontier barrier, which includes a six-metre-wide trench, so far runs for 20km north from the area around the border town of al-Qaim, which Iraqi forces retook from ISIL in November.
“Ten days ago we started to set up a barbed wire security fence with surveillance towers along the border with Syria,” Anwar Hamid Nayef, border guards spokesman in Iraq’s Anbar province, was quoted as saying on Sunday by AFP news agency.
Kurdistan 24 cited Major General Hamid Abdullah Ibrahim, commander of the Iraqi border guards, as saying that the forces were now preparing to install thermal cameras to prevent armed people attempting to cross from Syria.
“Neither infiltrators nor smugglers nor terrorists will penetrate our borders in the future,” he said in a statement.
At the end of last year, Baghdad declared victory over the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group, which swept across Iraq in mid-2014 and seized control of nearly a third of the country.
The group, however, still holds pockets of territory in the vast deserts of eastern Syria and maintains its ability to attack inside Iraq.
Nayef said that experts from Baghdad’s ministry of defence and an anti-ISIL coalition spearheaded by the United States would come “to evaluate the effectiveness of the fence”.
“If they approve the installations, we will continue along the whole border with Syria,” he said.
In total, the frontier stretches for some 600km.
In a sign of the continuing threat it poses to Iraq, the bodies of eight captives executed by ISIL were this week found along a highway north of Baghdad.
Iraq responded by executing 13 death row ISIL members on Friday, after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi vowed to avenge the deaths of the eight civilians.
Iraq, which has repeatedly faced criticism over the high number of death sentences handed down by its anti-terrorist courts, hanged at least 111 convicts in 2017.
More than 300 people, including around 100 foreign women, have been condemned to death in Iraq and hundreds of others to life imprisonment for membership of ISIL, a judicial source said in April.
In a bid to combat the armed group, Iraqi forces have kept up operations targeting mostly remote desert areas from where group has continued to carry out attacks.
The military has also carried out a series of air attacks against ISIL, also known as Daesh in Arabic, inside Syria.
“We had warned that the battle against Daesh was not over, even if the group was broken,” Abdel Mahdi Karbalai, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most-senior Shia Muslim leader, said during a sermon at Friday prayers.
He called for bolstering the army and intelligence services in order to “eliminate the terrorists and guarantee protection and security” for the population.