“God has enabled the soldiers of the caliphate to cleanse all of Ramadi” announced Islamic State (IS) on Sunday night as the capital of Iraq’s largest province, Anbar, fell to the extremist Islamic terrorists.
The loss of the city, just 70 miles from Baghdad, is the worst military setback since the Iraqi government started reclaiming territory from the jihadists late last year. Confirming the situation a spokesman for the provincial governor reported “Ramadi has fallen.”
It is estimated that over 500 have been killed in the city of around half a million people since the jihadist attack on the city by IS began on Friday. Six suicide car bomb attacks detonated in quick succession launched the assault causing up to 8,000 to flee the city contravening orders to stay broadcast from mosques by IS.
In order to minimise casualties security forces loyal to the Iraqi government were ordered to withdraw in contrast to earlier orders to hold their ground, allowing IS to consolidate its hold on the city during the course of the weekend. One resident told the Daily Telegraph: “There’s no one here to defend us – our army has melted away.”
Sky News foreign affairs editor Sam Kiley explained the strategic importance of the city:
“Ramadi sits on the main supply route to Jordan and Syria, it sits on the river heading west so it’s absolutely critical for the lifeblood from that direction for Baghdad. If Islamic State can hold onto Anbar province, which is about a third of the area of the country, and they’ve got Nineveh province in the north, they’re starting to create a Sunni-stan in Iraqi territory.”
In contrast to the provincial governor the United States has been more equivocal in its assessment – “Ramadi has been contested since last summer and ISIL now has the advantage” said Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith. She added that the United States does not believe the advance means IS has the upper hand regarding the overall campaign in Iraq, merely that it represents a “propaganda boost.” She pledged continued US air support and advice to the anti-IS coalition.
US Secretary of State John Kerry says he is confident the situation can be resolved:
“I am convinced that as the forces are redeployed and as the days flow in the weeks ahead that’s going to change, as overall [IS has] been driven back… I am absolutely confident in the days ahead that will be reversed.”
Iran-backed Shiite militia groups, known as Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation), are reported to have converged on Ramadi to help Iraqi security forces retake the city despite fears that such a move could stir up sectarian violence in the Sunni-dominated province.