Ramadi will be taken back ‘within days’

Ramadi will be taken back ‘within days’
Iraq's PM says Ramadi will be taken back from Islamic State 'with days', after pro government forces recapture territory near the recently-fallen city on Sunday.
4 min read
Iraqi forces guarding positions south of Bghdad on May 24, 2015 [AFP/Getty]

Iraqi forces will retake the city of Ramadi from Islamic State ‘in days’, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said.

Abadi also dismissed accusations by US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter that Iraqi forces lacked  the will to fight the Islamic State group, which scored a resounding victory a week earlier with the capture of Ramadi.   

The militants had appeared on the back foot in Iraq in recent months but twin offensives on Ramadi and on the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra have swung the momentum. 

The loss of Ramadi, capital of Iraq's largest province of Anbar, raised questions over the strategy adopted not only by Baghdad but also by Washington to tackle IS. 

Carter told CNN that Baghdad's worst military defeat in almost a year could have been avoided: 

"What apparently happened was the Iraqi forces showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered, and they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and they failed to fight and withdrew from the site," he said. 

"That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves," he said, using an alternative name for the group.  

But In a fierce rebuttal, al-Abadi told the BBC that Carter was "fed with the wrong information" and that Ramadi would be recaptured "within days".  

On Saturday, pro-government forces retook territory from the Islamic State group east of Ramadi, commanders said, in their first counterattack since the fall of the Anbar provincial capital last week.  

"The Husaybah area is now under full control and the forces are now advancing to liberate neighbouring Jweibah," a police colonel told AFP from the front.  

The area's most prominent Sunni tribal leader, Sheikh Rafia Abdelkarim al-Fahdawi, deployed his forces, whose knowledge of the terrain is key, alongside fighters from the Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella for Shia militia and volunteers.

The police colonel said the Husaybah operation also involved local and federal police, the interior ministry's rapid intervention force as well as the army.  

In Iraq, a mosaic of anti-IS forces have massed in the Euphrates Valley to ready for an offensive aimed at turning the tide on the extremists.  

The May 17 takeover of Ramadi was Baghdad's worst defeat in almost a year, while the capture three days later of the historic Syrian city of Palmyra has put its archaeological treasures in peril and positioned IS for a possible drive on Damascus.   

Stopping the rot 

Swift action was seen as essential to prevent IS from laying booby traps across Ramadi, which would make any advance in the city more risky and complicated.  

But government and allied forces were also keen to prevent further losses as IS used its momentum after seizing Ramadi to take more land to the east of the city.   

"What happened in Anbar is very similar to what happened last year in Diyala, Mosul and Salaheddin," said Ahmed al-Assadi, spokesman of the Hashed al-Shaabi.  

He was referring to the debacle of security forces when IS-led fighters swept across Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland in June last year, bringing Iraq to the brink of collapse. 

Some Iraqi forces were criticised for avoiding battle during the fall of Ramadi, which led Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to call in the Hashed al-Shaabi.  

He and Washington had opposed the mass deployment in the Sunni province of Anbar of militia groups with direct ties to Iran and a dubious human rights record.  

However, the strategy of US-led coalition air strikes while the security apparatus gets revamped has failed to keep up with the pace of IS advances. 

Washington tried to remain upbeat after the loss of Ramadi and Palmyra, playing down the IS advance as tactical setbacks.  

IS expansion 

IS fighters, who now control roughly half of Syria, reinforced their self-declared "caliphate" by seizing Syria's Al-Tanaf crossing on the Damascus-Baghdad highway late Thursday.  

Prominent Iraqi Sunni politician Saleh Mutlaq echoed calls from relief organisations for the authorities to open a bridge where thousands of displaced people have been waiting to reach safer provinces:

"The constitution does not allow anyone to forbid a citizen from entering any province," he said at a conference in Jordan.  

IS on Friday also demonstrated its ability to strike beyond the heart of its "caliphate" when for the first time it claimed an attack in Saudi Arabia. 

The suicide bombing, targeting Shia  worshippers at the main weekly Muslim prayers in Qatif, in the east of the kingdom, killed 21 people and wounded 81, Saudi authorities said.  

The UN Security Council reacted by stressing IS "must be defeated and that the intolerance, violence and hatred it espouses must be stamped out".