Norway's top military official in Iraq says virus helps IS

COPENHAGEN: Militants hide on sparsely populated farmland in Iraq from where they face the Iraqi fight to curb the country's expansion, the head of the Norwegian 70-man contingent in this Middle Eastern nation said on Wednesday.

Iraq faces not only the world, but also a resurgence of Islamic State group attacks and a financial crisis as oil prices drop to record lows _ a crisis for a nation that relies on crude exports to finance 90% of your state spending.

The militants `` reside in agricultural areas and are therefore not particularly susceptible to virus infection, '' Lt. Col. Stein Grongstad told the VG newspaper in Norway. In recent weeks, they have been attacking Iraqi forces `` which are currently not coordinated to the same extent as before the virus attack. ''

The assessment is in line with reports that the militant group is taking advantage of governments engrossed in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing decline in economic chaos to mount more brazen attacks in Iraq and Syria.

In Iraq, militants are also exploiting security breaches that coincide with a withdrawal of US-led coalition forces from bases in the western provinces of Iraq, Nineveh and Kirkuk, in line with a reduction conceived in December.

Grongstad described the situation as a `` paradox '', that at a time when the world is dealing with the pandemic, IS attacks are on the rise.

`` The Islamic State group has been moving the fighting from Syria to Iraq ... (and) it is strengthening, both financially and militarily, '' he said.

Since 2017, a Norwegian contingent has settled in the vast and largely deserted province of Anbar in western Iraq, where it trains and advises Iraqi security forces.

Iraq has reported more than 2,700 cases of coronavirus infections, including 109 deaths.

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