Iraqi Army victory over ISIS in Ramadi
AMMAN - It may have come as a surprise that the Iraqi Army, which endured humiliating defeats against the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014 and 2015, regained partial, or nearly complete, control over crucial cities after purging them of militants.
The victories came after carefully planned operations and tactics devised by the Americans, who maintain more than 3,500 military personnel assisting the Iraqis in the war on ISIS, Iraqi officials said.
In central and northern Iraq in recent weeks, the army, backed by local militias, including the Kurdish peshmerga, recaptured parts of the key cities of Tikrit, Baiji, Hawija and Sinjar and the Tishrin dam.
On December 27th, the army recaptured the centre of Ramadi, which it had deserted in an embarrassing retreat last May. Iraqi forces abandoned their arms and positions and fled on news that ISIS was advancing towards them.
“It’s all going according to precise military plans organised and coordinated with the Americans,” Iraqi military commander Major-General Ismail al-Mahlawi told The Arab Weekly.
“The victory in Ramadi boosted the army’s confidence and made its morale high. This sets the stage for the battle to continue to free all of Iraq.
“Now, we can turn our attention to Mosul,” Iraq’s second largest city, dominated by Sunni Muslims and seized by ISIS in June 2014. He and other Iraqi security officials declined to say if there was a plan or a date set for the operation to liberate Mosul.
Mahlawi said the Iraqi military was in control of “70 to 80%” of Ramadi, the provincial capital of the vast Anbar desert region, which is about an hour’s drive west of Baghdad.
Adding other recaptured areas, Mahlawi estimated that ISIS’s control of Iraqi territory had shrunk by 40% from 2014.
Iraqi plans are specifically designed to clear areas around Baghdad of ISIS, said Anbar Governor Sohaib al-Rawi.
“The main aim is bolster the security of the capital, while ridding other key cities of the militants,” Rawi said.
Ramadi is the first major city recaptured by the army itself, with only air cover by the Americans who provided training to Iraqi soldiers and have flown 630 sorties since July against ISIS strongholds in Iraq.
The Shia or Iranian-allied militias were kept off the battlefield to avoid sectarian tension with the mainly Sunni tribal population of Ramadi and to encourage them to join the fight against ISIS.
The government, led by Shia Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, said Ramadi would be handed over to local police and a Sunni tribal force once it was secured, a measure meant to win over the community.
“We have trained hundreds of tribal fighters. Their role will be holding the fort,” Brigadier-General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the joint operations command, said in an interview.
With the battle in Ramadi and elsewhere in Iraq far from over, the recent Iraqi Army victories are the clearest sign yet that ISIS “is losing momentum after having laid its hands on large areas in Iraq and Syria”, said Athal al-Fahdawi, an Anbar city council member.
“Clearly, the group is in retreat,” Fahdawi said.
With the army’s win in Ramadi, ISIS stands to suffer a serious strategic defeat, particularly in western Iraq. Anbar is significant because it is the heartland of Sunni Muslim Arab tribes, some of which sided with ISIS to avenge their isolation by Shia-led governments in Baghdad.
Winning back Ramadi allows the Iraqi government to cut off a major supply line that ran from Falluja from Anbar. With Ramadi recaptured, the jihadists are isolated in Falluja, cut off from the rest of the province. Falluja is likely the next in the Iraqis’ list to be purged of jihadists.
Wedged between Ramadi and Baghdad, Falluja was the first city to fall to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s militants in January 2014.
Six months earlier, ISIS, led by Baghdadi, emerged from al- Qaeda and swept through large parts of Iraq and of neighbouring Syria.
Damage is “massive and widespread” in Ramadi, according to Fahdawi, who spoke in a telephone interview as he visited the recaptured part of Ramadi.
“About 80% of buildings and infrastructure is demolished either by ISIS blowing them up or US air strikes flattening them,” he said.