Every recent news story about the battle against ISIS in Iraq has taken pains to quote the administration’s assessment that about 25 percent of the Islamic State’s territory has been recaptured. Pushing them out of Tikrit was a significant milestone, although it took considerably longer than planned.
But now CNN is reporting that the city of Ramadi, only 70 miles from Baghdad, “might be just hours away” from falling to ISIS.
Their source is Falih Essawi, deputy head of the Anbar Provincial Council, who is currently in Ramadi—packing a machine gun and fighting on the front lines, in fact. He said it was “unclear how much longer government troops can hold the front lines against the ISIS offensive.”
Essawi pleaded for reinforcements from the Iraqi government and American air cover: “This is what we warned Baghdad of what’s going to happen. Where is Baghdad? Where is al-Abadi?” The last refers to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who met with President Obama yesterday to request increased military aid.
CNN lays out a situation where Ramadi is virtually enveloped, with ISIS forces pushing from every direction but the west, where government forces are beginning to look unsteady. Refugees have been seen fleeing the city. One refugee, from the Albu Ghanem village outside Ramadi, spoke of packing up his family and leaving his house because a team of Islamic State snipers set up shop on his roof.
Early Wednesday afternoon, the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command pushed back against these reports, with one defense official telling the Daily Beast, “As of yesterday, Ramadi was not about to fall.”
That is not the most enthusiastic pushback one could ask for, measured against social media messages from Iraqis in the area and the report of an Iraqi politician currently fending off ISIS with a machine gun.
The Washington Post also quotes an Iraqi intelligence official saying the situation in Ramadi is “critical,” as supply lines to government forces might soon be severed, but also relays assurances from the Iraqi Defense Ministry that reinforcements are on the way, and “the standoff will be resolved in the coming hour.”