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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Iraqi Security Forces beginning final push on Ramadi, while Iranian-backed Shi'a militias confront Baiji.

Link: Iraqis closing in on Ramadi.

In May, 2015, forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), sometimes referred to as ISIL, captured the Sunni controlled city of Ramadi, which is located in the far east of Anbar Province, within roughly sixty miles of Baghdad.  ISIS was also able to capture the city of Fallujah, which is even closer to the capital city.  Americans may remember the names "Ramadi" and "Fallujah", as U.S. military forces had a difficult time clearing both cities of insurgents during the Iraq conflict.  Ramadi and Fallujah are part of a string of Sunni-dominated cities in Anbar that stretch from Ramadi in the east to Qa'im in the west.  There has been some concern that the Sunni community in Iraq might eventually join ISIS in an effort to avoid domination by Iran and the Iraqi Shi'a population.  Following the occupation of Ramadi by ISIS in May, the government in Baghdad made the recapture of the city its highest military priority.  In July, amid much fanfare, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), alongside elements of the Iraqi Police, launched an offensive aimed not only at Ramadi, but to rid Anbar Province of ISIS completely.  As a sign of cooperation, the Iranian backed Shi'a militias (or the Popular Mobilization Units, as they prefer to be called) would attack Fallujah simultaneously.  For both the militias and the ISF, the road west to Ramadi and Fallujah has been costly and increasingly difficult.  At times, the Iraqi General Command expressed frustration with what they saw as lack of support from the U.S.-led coalition air campaign.  Also, ISIS utilized distraction-attacks in other provinces to encourage respective governors to demand a return of all provincial troops taking part in the Anbar offensive.  As the ISF and the militias slowly moved closer to their targets, ISIS has increased SVBIED attacks, not to mention the booby traps left behind as ISIS strategically retreats and redeploys.  As of October 2015, it is estimated that ISIS has somewhere in between 600 and 1000 fighters hunkered down in Ramadi (I have found no estimates of the ISIS forces in Fallujah)  As the ISF and the militias begin what they hope is the last phase of the offensive, it has become apparent that ISIS has rigged the entire inner city of Ramadi with IEDs and various just-as-deadly booby traps.  The air coalition and the Iraqi General Staff have moved past any disagreements, and during the last month, air sorties in and around Ramadi and Fallujah have caused ISIS serious casualties.  Certain roads in and out of both cities have remained open, which has allowed supplies and fighters to get through.  Regardless, for the sake of the independence of the Abadi Administration in Baghdad, Ramadi must be recaptured.

If Ramadi remains under ISIS control, it will reflect negatively on the United States.  The ISF have been trained by U.S. specialists, and the coalition air campaign is perceived as basically controlled by the Pentagon.  Failure to take Ramadi would result in tremendous criticism of the Abadi Administration's close relationship with the United States.  Can you imagine if ISIS keeps control of Ramadi, but Fallujah falls to the militias?  This would provide the Iranians and their Iraqi supporters will all the ammunition they need to force Abadi into adopting a more pro-Iranian policy.  With the Shi'a community in control of the government, and the Iranian Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Commander Qassim Suleimani already spotted in Baiji, there can be no doubt that the Iranians intend to push the United States out of Iraq for good.  Certainly the success of militias operations led by Iranian military personnel, combined with the failure of the U.S.-supported ISF offensive in Anbar, will impact the amount of influence the Iranians have in Baghdad, not to mention the all-important battle for hearts-and-minds.  Since our precipitous military departure from Iraq in 2010, leaving building projects unfinished and, more importantly, military training programs incomplete, the Iranians have kept up a media campaign to portray the United States as undependable.  Once the Iranians drop the pretense and we see Iranian military forces on the ground in Iraq, then the game will be over.  Iran, alongside its ISF partner, will force ISIS out of Iraq and back into the deserts of Syria, where the Russian Air Force and Special Forces will be waiting.  The International Community will give thanks, appropriately, to Russia and Iran, for their willingness to sacrifice the lives of their sons and daughters in the noble effort to destroy ISIS.  That's when things will get really interesting...... 

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