Ramadi, the provincial capital of western Iraqi Anbar, fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Friday, May 15 after its inhabitants were put to mass flight. The town, 110 km west of Baghdad, controls the traffic on the Euphrates River. Small pockets of Iraqi troops are still stranded there after taking hundreds of casualties.
The jihadists are in mid-momentum of a fresh multi-pronged offensive, which they launched shortly after they lost Tikrit last month to the biggest counter-offensive they had faced since seizing large tracts of land in Iraq nearly a year ago.
This momentum has carried the Islamists across Anbar province which touches the Syrian and Jordanian borders to capture another key location – Jubba, next door to Iraq’s biggest air base at Al-Ansar. There, hundreds of US officers and soldiers are training Iraqi troops to fight ISIS and helping the Iraqi army manage the fighting in the province.
Parts of this base have already come under Islamist gun and mortar fire.
Not far from Ramadi, ISIS is threatening the oil-producing town of Baiji where a small Iraqi army force of no more than a few hundred soldiers is surrounded by the jihadists, with slim chances of holding out much longer before they are wiped out or forced to surrender.
Yet another ISIS arm is pushing east towards Baghdad, with the object of disabling the international airport by bringing its runways within mortar range.
To conquer Ramadi, ISIS used bulldozers to knock gaps in the sand earthworks built by the Iraqi army to defend the town, then sending half a dozen bomb cars through the gaps to the Iraqi military command centers where they detonated.
Some of those bomb cars were driven by Muslims from West Europe, who had traveled through Syria to join up with ISIS in Iraq. The jihadists named one of them as “Abu Musa al-Britani.”
Just Thursday, May 14, the British police revealed that more than 700 potential terror suspects had traveled to Syria from the U.K. to fight or support extremists, and about half are believed to have returned, primed for terrorist operations on home ground.
In response to the British police statement, ISIS released a video recording of a message delivered by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calling on supporters around the world to join the fight in Syria and Iraq or to "take up arms wherever they live."
It was Baghdadi’s first message since a number of media reports said he was killed or critically injured, and was intended to refute claims that he was no longer in active charge of the group.
debkafile’s counter-terror sources outline the common operational tactic, modus operandi, employed by the Islamist group in all its Iraq offensives.
After singling out a targeted location, their fighters first seize control of its environs. That way, they can block off in advance any incoming and outgoing movements of Iraqi troops – whether in retreat or for bringing up reinforcements. Next, their fighters storm into the core of the targeted location. Fleeing Iraqi soldiers and their local allies and civilians are summarily put to death.
This new ISIS impetus in Iraq has wiped out the military advantages the Iran-backed Shiite militias and US air force gained from the capture of the central Iraqi town of Tikrit in late March and early April. When the Shiie mlitias turned on the local Sunni populace for murder, burning and looting, the Obama administration turned to Tehran and Baghdad and demanded those militias be removed from the city.
Since the Iraqi army is incapable of recovering control and holding Tikrit after the Islamists were driven out, the town has sunk into anarchy with innumerable armed gangs battling each other for control of its quarters, some of them ISIS loyalists.
In the current situation prevailing in western Iraq, the Americans and Iraqis might as well forget about their plans for retaking Iraq’s second city, Mosul, from ISIS control, this year.