15 April– Falih Essawi, the deputy head of Iraq’s Anbar Provincial Council, has stated militants from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could be “hours away” from taking the key city of Ramadi. Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, is the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province. Essawi said it is unclear how long government troops can hold their front line, adding that security is “collapsing rapidly in the city.”
ISIS was dealt a major blow earlier in April when Iraqi troops recaptured Tikrit. Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi said that after the recapture of Tikrit, the next military mission would be to clear ISIS militants from Anbar. Despite this announcement, ISIS fighters have intensified their offensive in Anbar province.
ISIS took control of southern routes into Ramadi in 2014. Over the weekend, the militants captured its northern routes and several districts in the city. An assault that included suicide and car bombs killed 10 Iraqi security forces and wounded the head of the Iraqi military operations in Anbar, General Qassim al-Muhammadi.
Earlier today, ISIS made advances in three eastern areas: Albu Soda, Albu Ghanem and parts of Soufiya. In Soufiya, the militants bombed a police station and took over a power plant. Heavy fighting near the provincial capital caused residents to flee from three villages after they were captured by ISIS fighters. Departing residents said that in the east, fighting is now two kilometres away from local government buildings.
Essawi has called for reinforcements from the Iraqi government for and the US-led coalition, just a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with President Barack Obama in Washington to seek more support for the fight against ISIS. In recent weeks, the US military has carried out multiple airstrikes against ISIS targets in the region.
On Sunday, ISIS targeted the headquarters of an Iraqi Army brigade stationed in the Thar Thar area. The region, northwest of Baghdad, is strategic. ISIS control of Thar Thar allows them a logistical supply line between the Anbar and Salahaddin provinces. The assault marks the second time in as many months that the group has captured Iraqi military headquarters in the region. The attack has been confirmed in the Iraqi media. Reports suggest that the assault began with three suicide bombers attacking the headquarters.
The Anbar Province covers nearly 140,000 square kilometres of land, extending from the Euphrates in the east to borders with Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia in the west, northwest and southwest. The vast, mostly desert region is home to approximately 1.5 million people. The province has major highways which link it through Baghdad, as well as Amman and Damascus. Clearing the area of ISIS fighters will be difficult and costly, but the recapture of the province will cut ISIS supply routes to Mosul, and strain the group’s communication lines with eastern Syria. Iraq is acutely aware of the repercussions of ISIS falling into the hands of Ramadi. It is a strategic imperative.