Ramadi, the capital of the vast Anbar Province, was the second major Iraqi city to fall to the Islamic State after the devastating loss of Mosul. The importance of the offensive launched Tuesday, Dec. 22 for its recapture from ISIS lies chiefly in the makeup of the assault force, which is unique in contemporary Syrian and Iraqi conflicts.
debkafile’s military sources name its partners as US and Russian army and air force elements, two varieties of Iraqi militia – Shiites under Iranian command and Sunnis, as well as the regular Iraqi army.
The Iraqi army is depicted as leading the assault. But this is only a sop to its lost honor for letting this Sunni city fall in the first place. The real command is in the hands of US Special Operations officers alongside Iraqi troops, and the Russian officers posted at the operational command center they established last month in Baghdad.
This Russian war room is in communication with US military headquarters in the Iraqi capital. It is from the Russian war room that the top commanders of the pro-Iranian militias send their orders. The most prominent is Abu Mahadi al-Muhandis, who heads the largest Iraqi Shiite militia known as the Popular Mobilization Committee.
Noting another first, our military sources disclose that Iranian officers liaise between the Americans and Russians on the front against ISIS. If this combination works for Ramadi, it will not doubt be transposed to the Syrian front and eventually, perhaps next summer, serve as the format for the general offensive the Americans are planning for wresting Mosul from the Islamic State.
When US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was in Baghdad last week to review the final preparations for the Ramadi operation, US officials were still insisting that the Iraqi army was fit for the heavy lifting after being trained by American instructors.
By Tuesday, US sources were admitting that pro-Iranian militias were also part of the operation.
debkafile’s military sources report on the division of tasks as follows:
Iraqi army forces are attacking the Ramadi city center from the north; Shiite militias from the south. The US air force is pounding ISIS targets inside the town in order to cripple its ability to fight off the oncoming forces. The Russian air force is standing by, ready to destroy any ISIS reinforcements attempting to cross in from Syria to aid their comrades in beleaguered Ramadi.
Experts keeping track of the offensive have no doubt that it will end in success. The jihadists holding Ramadi are few in number – 400-500 fighters at most. However, cleansing the town after victory will presents a daunting difficulty. In Tikrit and the refinery town of Baiji, ISIS split its defense structure into two levels – one on the surface and the second hidden underground.
The top level was thinly manned by fighting strength, but crawling with mines, booby-trapped trucks and IEDs detonated by remote control.
The lower level, consisting of deeply-dug interconnected tunnel systems, was where ISIS fighters hid out and jump out at night for attacks. According to the experience gained in other Iraqi battle arenas against ISIS, neither the Iraqi army nor local Shiite militias have been able to plumb and destroy these tunnel systems. And so they could never really purge the Islamic State from “liberated” towns.
Ramadi will face the same quandary.