Meanwhile, in Iraq, ISIS overruns army base in Anbar
Islamic State forces had the Iraqi army base in Anbar province, Camp Saqlawiyah, under siege for a week. With no American planes in sight, several battallions of Iraqi soldiers were eventually overrrun with nearly 500 dead or missing.
The story of the battle does not bode well for future operations in Iraq.
The lead-up to Sunday’s crisis began a week ago, when the last road to Camp Saqlawiyah, just north of insurgent-controlled Fallujah, was cut by Islamic State militants. One of two tanks that were among the vehicles guarding the road left to refuel, and the militants took the opportunity to attack those that remained, said a 9th Division soldier who was present and spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
The fall of the units protecting the supply route meant that the five battalions inside the base were completely besieged.
“There were no reinforcements, no food supplies, no medicine, no water, and then our ammunition began to run out,” said 1st Lt. Haider Majid, 28. “We called our leaders so many times. We called our commanders, we called members of parliament, but they just left us there to die.”
The major assault came Sunday. Soldiers interviewed said army commanders had sent word via walkie-talkie that a rescue mission was on its way and had taken control of a nearby bridge.
Shortly afterward, Iraqi army armored vehicles and military trucks arrived, and the men inside were dressed in the uniforms of Iraqi counterterrorism forces, the surviving soldiers said.
“We thought this was the support we were promised was on the way,” said Capt. Ahmed Hussein of the 8th Division. “The first three Humvees were ahead of the rest with some military trucks. We just let them in.”
One Humvee exploded in the middle of the camp. The two others drove to the perimeter and detonated. The rest of the Islamic State convoy was held back at the entrance, where the survivors said the militants carried out several more suicide bombings as they tried to break in.
“I gathered my soldiers and said: ‘We are going to die anyway. Let’s try to get out,’ ” Hussein said, adding that he and about 400 other soldiers escaped under heavy fire in a convoy. Others were left behind.
The commanding general in the region did not help morale any by being entirely unsympathetic to the plight of his men:
Soldiers said they sought help from Lt. Gen. Rashid Fleih, the head of Anbar Military Command. He told Iraq’s al-Sumaria news on Monday that the troops on the base were just complaining because they were trapped and “bored.”
Fleih said the army had delivered supplies while the base was under siege. But soldiers maintained that they received nothing, and thirst eventually forced them to dig a hole to dirty, salty water.
The base is about an hour from Baghdad and will serve nicely as a jumping off point for ISIS attacks on the capital's periphery. Islamic State may be getting pounded in the north, but they showed they are hardly intimidated by successfully routing Iraqi forces.