Baghdad: The Islamic State group on Monday returned to the desert town of Rutba in western Iraq, less than a day after vacating it, officials said.
The mayor of the remote town in Anbar province had warned when IS pulled out that the jihadist organisation may just be testing the population’s allegiance.
“Daesh (IS) has re-established its control on the city of Rutba… which it had left the previous day,” said a senior officer in the Jazeera Operations Command in charge of the area.
“Daesh came back from Al-Qaim with armoured vehicles and artillery,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They deployed them on the outskirts of the town and at the main entrances, as if to defend it from any attack by the security forces,” he said.
“However, Daesh’s foreign leaders previously based in Rutba did not return,” he said.
Rutba lies about 390 kilometres (245 miles) west of Baghdad on the road to Jordan.
Imad Ahmed, the town’s mayor, said “it was like a trick played by IS on the locals.”
He had told AFP after IS’s pullout on Sunday that the jihadist group may be trying to lure out members of the population secretly cooperating with the security forces.
Ahmed and Raja Barakat, the head of the Anbar provincial council’s security committee, confirmed that the foreign IS fighters in Rutba had not returned.
Military officials had warned after the IS pullback on Sunday that the Iraqi security forces could not move in immediately to take over the town IS had abandoned.
Rutba is far from the government forces’ main bases and any large-scale operation would require planning and the approval of the country’s top military leadership.