Blitzkrieg in Ramadi
AMMAN - Islamic State’s capture of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s largest province, sent jitters through the country and neighbouring states which fear extremists on their doorstep.
The fall of Ramadi to ISIS, despite more than 160 US-led coalition air strikes in the area in the last month, is the biggest triumph yet this year for the extremist group, which controls vast areas of Iraq and neighbouring Syria, all part of its self-proclaimed caliphate. The development is a serious setback for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Ramadi is strategically located on the western edge of the Iraqi capital, the seat of al-Abadi’s Shia-dominated government. A further ISIS advance towards Baghdad threatens the downfall of the first Arab capital to the militants.
By the same token, al-Abadi’s call on Shia militias, some of them Iranian proxies, to enter the fray in Sunni-dominated Anbar has stirred concerns of renewed abuses against the Sunni minority and could rekindle sectarian hostilities.
“The situation is bleak,” shouted Muhannad Haimour, a spokesman for Anbar’s governor, in a telephone interview with The Arab Weekly.
“People are frightened and security forces laid down their weapons and fled,” Haimour said. He said more than 500 civilians and soldiers had been killed in and outside Ramadi over two days of fierce fighting, which ended with ISIS takeover late on May 17th.
Meanwhile, Anbar Operations Command headquarters said Iraqi forces left behind a huge cache of heavy weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, which had recently been sent by Baghdad. The weapons had been supplied by the United States and Russia.
Ramadi is one of seven cities that make up Anbar, a vast desert region that borders Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia and is inhabited mostly by Sunnis with tribal Bedouin affiliations, who have been ostracised by successive Shia governments.
ISIS’s seizure of Ramadi could make Anbar a safe haven for militants and give them freedom to move more freely within the province and to and from Syria.
For Jordan, the presence of ISIS on two common borders — Iraq and Syria — “is a nightmare”, said a Jordanian government official, who declined to be identified.
“Anything is possible now,” he cautioned, referring to media reports speculating that the militants’ seizure of Iraqi arms and possibly chemical weapons in Syria risks unconventional warfare — perhaps using chemical warheads on short – or medium-range missiles to strike at pro-Western Jordan.
The fall of Ramadi underlined the failed strategy of the Iraqi government and the ineffectiveness of its army, which launched an offensive in April to retake Anbar. It also raised questions about the efficacy of Washington’s air strategy and its overall military support to the Iraqis. Iran’s endgame is also a source of suspicion as Shia militias are being sent to the Ramadi front. It is not clear at this stage if anyone has the means or the intent to come really to the rescue.