The two cows were strapped with explosives belts and were heading towards a military checkpoint in Diyala province when Iraqi soldiers opened fire and “blew them up”, according to a report on the Kurdish language Rudaw news website.
One civilian was injured in the failed attack last week, according to the report.
Local official Sadiq Husseini was quoted as saying that the incident "shows that the group has lost the ability to recruit young people and would-be suicide bombers, instead they are using cattle".
Isis has been rebuilding in Iraq following the loss of its caliphate. Diyala province has seen a spate of attacks in recent months, despite ongoing military operations by the Iraqi security forces and the US-led coalition set up to defeat Isis.
The province is home to a mixed population of Kurds, Sunnis and Shias, and is at the centre of a dispute between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraq, which both claim ownership.
Isis has taken advantage of the territorial dispute to re-establish itself in the area. According to a report from the Institute for the Study of War earlier this year, Isis holds a “durable support zone” in the south of the province, and has “increased its attack tempo against security forces, local tribal figures, and commercial sites.”
Just last week, two Iraqi soldiers were reportedly killed by snipers in the town of Khanaqin.
It is not unheard of for militant groups to use livestock in attacks. Research charity Action on Armed Violence has recorded six incidents of “donkey-borne IEDs” since 2010, which killed a total of 14 people. All of the incidents were in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The attempt to use cows to attack security forces may be the first time Isis has used cattle in its operations, but it has on at least one occasion used dairy products to smuggle explosives.
Lebanese authorities thwarted a plan by Isis in December last year to carry out bomb attacks during the country’s parliamentary elections.
The militant group smuggled explosives from Syria in buckets of cheese to use in attacks against places of worship, military targets and gatherings of Christians. But a 10-month police surveillance operation, codenamed “Lethal Cheese”, uncovered the plot.
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