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Iran-Backed Shiite Militias Move to Combat ISIS in Ramadi

Barack Obama’s sunset of American power is absolutely brutal on the people he abandons to the coming night.

After American-armed troops from the American-supported Iraqi central government were routed from the city of Ramadi by an inferior ISIS force, the head-choppers embarked on what the Kurdish Rudaw news service describes as a “bloody purge.”

The conquering horde is going door-to-door looking for government sympathizers, and has evidently killed several hundred of them so far.  The only hope of forestalling an even greater bloodbath is a rescue, not from America, but from Iran and its Shiite militia, whose assistance Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has openly requested.

The question is: who’s going to keep the Shiites from running roughshod over the Sunni population of Ramadi, assuming they’re able to eject the Islamic State?

“The Shiite militias have been key to victories against the Islamic State group on other fronts north of Baghdad in recent months,” writes Rudaw. “But they have also been widely criticized over accusations of extrajudicial killings of Sunnis, as well as of looting and torching Sunni property — charges militia leaders deny.”

One grocery-store owner in Ramadi said he couldn’t see much difference between life under ISIS, which he referred to as “Daesh,” and the Shiites: “If the Shiite militias enter Ramadi, they will do the same things being done by Daesh.  In both cases, we will be either killed or displaced. For us, the militias and ISIS militants are two faces of the same coin.”

Another Rudaw article notes that some American lawmakers are sounding similar warnings.  “Whatever operational success Shia militias may have in Anbar would be far exceeded by the strategic damage caused by their violent sectarianism and the fear and suspicion it breeds among Iraqi Sunnis,” read a statement from Senators John  McCain and Lindsey Graham.  “Moreover, the prominent role of these militias continues to feed the perception of a Baghdad government unable or unwilling to protect Sunnis.”

Sunni leaders in Iraq view the fall of Ramadi as an avoidable horror… but avoiding it would have involved arming Sunni tribal fighters in Anbar, something the Shiite-leaning central government was unwilling to do, fearing the tribes could turn their weapons against the Baghdad government after some future dispute.  “Some analysts believe Baghdad preferred the fall of the city to ISIS than to arm the Sunni tribes,” writes Rudaw.

The U.S. government apparently sees no way to retake Ramadi without help from Shiite militias, with Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren saying that “as long as they are controlled by the central Iraqi government, then they will participate.”

As the New York Times notes, that’s a very different tune than the one American officials were singing just two months ago, when General Lloyd J. Austin III of the U.S. Central Command told Congress, “I will not — and I hope we never — coordinate or cooperate with Shiite militias.”

It’s unclear how Baghdad will “control” Shiite militia groups when it couldn’t even get its regular army units to hold position against ISIS fighters.  The attackers came boiling out of a sandstorm, which the New York Times says “delayed American warplanes and kept them from launching airstrikes to help the Iraqi forces, as the Islamic State fighters evidently anticipated.”  A mixture of car bombings and ground attacks left Iraqi forces in close-quarters combat against ISIS, sharply limiting the usefulness of American air power after the storm ended.

What happened next is still obscured by a whirlwind of political spin as powerful as any sandstorm, but it’s clear the Iraqi military units did not perform well.  The Obama Administration is attempting to dispute reports that the Iraqis “cut and ran,” but there are viral videos across the Internet that show them leaving in an awfully big hurry:

According to Rudaw, ISIS social media accounts claim their fighters seized at least 30 armored American Humvees and 10 M1A1 Abrams battle tanks from the fleeing Iraq troops, plus “tons of ammunition and other advanced weapons.”

That hardware will now presumably be turned against forces seeking to liberate Ramadi, who have a very difficult task ahead of them.  Yesterday’s White House spin about minor “setbacks” and the quick, easy ejection of ISIS forces who are only temporarily occupying Ramadi is gone, replaced by grim, realistic assessments, such as Joint Chiefs chairman General Martin Dempsey saying “much effort will now be required to reclaim the city.”

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