Ramadi’s “Conquest” Leaves Little to Celebrate. ISIS Is Still Around
In their eagerness for a major victory against the Islamic State, US officials this week hailed what they called the capture of Ramadi with effusive statements.
A cooler judgment followed:
The Iraqi military had indeed freed the city center and unfurled the Iraqi flag over the government compound, but the rest of the town, US officials sternly noted, remained to be liberated and handed over to Sunni fighters.
After that, the Iraqi army must turn to the formidable missions of evicting ISIS from the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys and capturing Falujja, as overtures for the finale of recovering Mosul, the de facto ISIS capital in Iraq.
This may sound like a reasonable plan, except for the following facts which, in the view of DEBKA Weekly’s military experts, may render it unfeasible:
1. Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, the Iraqi army’s commander of Anbar province, of which Ramadi is the capital, frankly offered his professional opinion that, after the fall of the city center, large parts of the city were still under ISIS control.
2. Out of the tens of thousands of Iraqi army troops and Shiite and Sunni militiamen mustered for the liberation of Ramadi, the only forces that actually took part in the battle for the city center, according to our military sources, were four brigades of the Special Republican Guard (SRG) (also known as the Golden Division), plus elements of the National Police special commando brigades and of the Hashid al-Ashairi, a Sunni tribal force trained by 250 US military advisers at Ayn al-Asad airbase in Anbar province.
The rest stood back from the fighting.
3. American officers and the Sunni tribal fighters were forced to block pro-Iranian Shiite militias from entering Ramadi center to avert a massacre of Sunni inhabitants and massive looting.
4. The Hashid al-Ashairi Sunni force’s effectiveness is hard to determine. Its chiefs, using ISIS as a bargaining chip, haggled with the US military and the Iraqi government for permission to fight alone to drive the jihadists out of Ramadi. They sought to clinch their control of the liberated town, rather than admitting Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whom they don’t trust.
5. The Sunni tribes are riddled with rivalries, plots and intrigues. Even when they fight together as comrades, there is no knowing how long their camaraderie will hold or at what moment it will break down in disputes.
6. The Obama administration and the US military command in Baghdad are relying on Anbar Governor Suhaib al-Rawi, to build bridges between the Sunnis of his province and the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. New to the post, al-Rawi has become popular by dint of working hard to benefit the province rather than engaging in tribal politics. He is a member of the legal Islamic Party of Iraq, which has offices and members nationwide. It is obviously too soon to judge whether he is capable of meeting the high expectations the Americans repose in him.