Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki failed to acknowledge the U.S.-led coalition air support in a statement about the liberation of Ramadi, although it was an integral part of the offensive to wrest control of the Iraqi city from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
Instead, the former prime minister congratulated the Iraqi armed forces and the people of Iraq and praised the Shiite militias, many of which are backed by Iran, for seizing back Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province some 60 miles west of Baghdad.
The strategically important Anbar is Iraq’s largest and westernmost province. It shares a border with Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
In a statement, Maliki, a Shiite himself, said the army, anti-terrorism squad, and the Iraqi air force dislodged ISIS in Ramadi, Rudaw reports.
“We salute our heroes that returned the trust of their people and proved the power of success when the forces are united,” said Maliki.
He specifically praised the Shiite militia forces for liberating Ramadi, although his remarks contradicted earlier reports that such armed groups, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMG), did not play a role in taking back the Sunni city.
“His statement made no mention of the aerial support that was an integral part of the offensive for Ramadi,” notes Rudaw.
Since July, the American-led coalition has launched 630 airstrikes as part of the Ramadi campaign, including three on Sunday that hit 18 targets, according to Col. Steve Warren, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the international alliance.
The U.S. has also spent billions to arm and develop the Iraqi security forces.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Col. Warren did congratulate the Iraqi armed forces for capturing Ramadi.
“We congratulate the Iraqi Security Forces for their continued success against ISIL in Ramadi… The coalition has provided steadfast support to the Iraqi government to enable them to fight and win against ISIL,” said Warren in a statement.
He noted that coalition support included “training several Iraqi Army brigades, [Counterterrorism] units and federal and local police forces who fought in Ramadi, providing specialized engineering equipment to clear IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] and VBIEDs [Vehicle-Borne IEDs]: and providing advice and assistance at multiple Iraqi Army headquarters…”
RAMADI: My statement on Ramadi success today. pic.twitter.com/NXFqaFUofC
— COL Steve Warren (@OIRSpox) December 28, 2015
“The expulsion of ISIL by Iraqi security forces, supported by our international coalition, is a significant step forward in the campaign to defeat this barbaric group and restore Iraq’s territorial sovereignty,” added Carter in a statement.
On Monday, the Iraqi army reported that it had reached the city center and was in control of the government complex.
Ramadi fell into the hands of ISIS jihadists in May in what was considered the Iraqi army’s second humiliating loss after their defeat in Mosul in 2014.
The success by Iraqi military forces in securing the government complex “clearly demonstrates that the enemy is losing momentum as they steadily cede territory” in Iraq and Syria, said Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of the fight against ISIS.
Citing Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar, the Associated Press (AP) reported early Monday afternoon “that Iraqi forces had only retaken the government complex and that parts of the city remained under IS control.”
He said ISIS jihadists still control 30 percent of the Iraqi city, adding that Iraqi forces do not fully control many districts abandoned by the militants.
Nevertheless, USA Today quoted Abdul Ghani Al Assad, an Iraqi military commander, as saying that ISIS still held outlying districts of Ramadi, but the terrorists were now on the run.
“Daesh fled to the eastern outskirts of the city,” reportedly said Al Assad, using the Arabic term for ISIL. “We will chase them to end their evil totally.”