With Ramadi encircled, the Iraqi forces brace for urban warfare
BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces appear better positioned than ever to launch an offensive against Islamic State militants controlling Ramadi, now that months-long efforts to cut off supply lines to the city are having an effect, but plenty of risks remain. The fall of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, to the group in May was the biggest defeat for Iraq’s weak central government in nearly a year, dampening its hopes of routing the Sunni militants from the country’s north and west.
Retaking the city of 450,000 would provide a major psychological boost to Iraqi security forces, who have mostly collapsed in the face of advances by Islamic State, which last year seized a third of Iraq, a major OPEC oil producer and US ally. The ultimate goal for Iraqi forces is to break Islamic State’s grip over its main stronghold Mosul, the biggest city in the north. Critical momentum is needed in order to achieve that.
The Ramadi offensive has been impeded by heavy use of improvised explosive devices, inadequate troops and equipment due to government cash shortages, and stringent rules of engagement for US-led air strikes, Iraqi army and federal police officers involved in the battle said. Recent gains, however, have raised expectations that the military is set to strike, six months after vowing to quickly seize the city, 100 miles west of Baghdad. Iraq’s elite US-trained counter-terrorism forces have led the campaign to put a cordon around the city. Backed by armoured divisions of the federal police, they cut off the southern and western approaches to prevent reinforcements arriving from cities near the Syrian border. —Reuters