As Iraqi militias prepared to take back Ramadi from the Islamic State (IS), which has moved swiftly to tighten its control, the US conceded losing the provincial capital was a setback.
“There’s no denying that this is, indeed, a setback,” White House spokesperson Eric Shultz told reporters. “But there’s also no denying that we will help the Iraqis take back Ramadi.”
American officials have said the IS was able to take early advantage in its assault on the city in a sandstorm that made it impossible for US warplanes to help Iraqi forces.By the time the storm cleared, US pilots couldn’t tell Islamic State fighters and positions from those of the Iraqis, who gave up shortly and fled in all too familiar US-made Humvees.
As Iraqi militias gathered for the assault at a base near Ramadi, the Anbar province capital just 70 miles from Baghdad, IS launched efforts to defend its new acquisition.
They started by flying their black flags on rooftops and releasing prisoners from the local counter-terrorism detention center — inviting people to come and get their relatives.
Saed Hammad al-Dulaimi, 37, a school teacher who is still in the city, told Reuters: “Islamic State used loudspeakers urging people who have relatives in prison to gather at the main mosque in the city centre to pick them up. I saw men rushing to the mosque to receive their prisoners.”
Wresting Ramadi back from the IS will not be easy — they continue to hold Mosul. If they gain control of all of Anbar province, stability in Iraq itself could be seriously in danger.
Thousands of miles away in the US, Iraq has injected itself into the presidential race for 2016, with candidates forced to take positions on, one, the decision to start that war.
Two, who is to blame for the present situation, and, three, what needs to be done. One potential candidate, Republican senator Lindsay Graham wants more US troops in Iraq.
(With agency inputs from Baghdad)