KIRKUK/WASHINGTON - The Islamic State is controlling some parts of the vast desert in Iraq where it is preparing for car bomb attacks against Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Iraqi officials told VOA.
According to the officials, IS controls a plain and sandy area known as al-Jazeera that is between Mosul, Salahuddin and Anbar provinces.
Iraqi Lieutenant Abdullah Bor, the Kurdish commander in Salahuddin province, told VOA that after IS lost control of some key Iraqi cities — including Tikrit and Ramadi — its fighters retreated to the surrounding desert, where they train and prepare to drive the homemade explosive devices into battle.
"IS uses the desert to plan suicide car bomb attacks in the cities around the area," he said.
Hassan Muhammad, a member of the Salahuddin Provincial Council, told VOA that IS recently altered its fighting tactics in Iraq by reducing direct confrontation and increasing suicide car bombings.
"IS has sent around 50 car suicide bombers from that desert to Ramadi" Muhammad said.
Ramadi is the capital of mainly Sunni-Muslim Anbar province, which had been controlled by IS since last May.
Weakened IS still deadly
Iraqi forces, backed by anti-IS coalition air power, drove IS fighters out of the city in December 2015 and declared their first major victory against the Islamic State group in months.
Days after Iraqi government forces recaptured the city, IS militants launched a counteroffensive and rocked the city with suicide car bombs. Dozens of Iraqi forces were killed trying to stop the vehicles.
Amin Aziz, a former leader of Salahuddin province, told VOA that IS has been weakened by its recent losses in Iraq and is using car bombs to prove it is still a threat.
"IS takes advantage of the al-Jazeera area because it's a vast, unpopulated desert between some Iraqi cities like Ramadi, Haditha and Tikrit," Aziz said.
Iraqi officials say IS used the desert region to plot a recent suicide car bomb attack on a key Iraqi military airbase known as Camp Speicher.
Iraqi Staff Lieutenant Anwar Hama Amin told VOA that Camp Speicher is under full control of the Iraqi army, but IS militants are using the desert to continue to launch attacks.
"Daesh takes advantage of the opportunities provided through the desert," Amin said, using an Arabic name for IS.