ISIS drive on Ramadi could be a game changer

Every time the administration tries to spin the war against Islamic State in Iraq as going well, IS fighters make them out to be liars.

Last week, the administration trotted a Pentagon spokesman out to tell the press that US coalition efforts have pushed Islamic State out of 30% of the territory they captured last year.

No problem, says IS. We'll just take Ramadi and make you look like fools.

Ramadi, the city in Anbar province that has earned a place in the Marine Corps history as a bloody victory in 2005, is under a dire threat from Islamic State forces who are attacking the outskirts and threatening to overturn the US plans in Iraq.

The administration is downplaying the threat, saying that if IS takes Ramadi, it won't be a big deal. But the Iraqi government begs to differ and is pouring troops into the battle to keep IS from overrunning the city.

Although troops and armed tribesmen had previously been able to stop the militants reaching the compound that hosts the provincial government and security headquarters, Mr Fahdawi said it was now within range of their weapons.

The interior ministry has sent "an urgent response unit", but Mr Fahdawi said the reinforcements were insufficient to repel the assault.

Another member of the provincial council insisted that Ramadi was not falling.

But Farhan Mohammed told the BBC that while Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi were both out of the country, Anbar was in the midst of a major battle.

He accused the government in Baghdad of not being serious about tackling the crisis in the province.

The BBC's Paul Adams says Anbar is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and its leaders have accused the Shia-dominated government of ignoring their concerns - something that has helped to turn Anbar into fertile territory for IS.

The latest fighting is taking its toll on the people of Ramadi, who have suffered terribly for more than a decade, our correspondent adds.

More than 2,000 families had fled from their homes because of the fighting, migration ministry official Sattar Nowruz told AP.

How bad would it be if IS took Ramadi? You will note the tone of frustration by the Sunni leader, chastizing the government for not caring. This is is the suspiciion harbored by many Sunnis in Anbar, who can't decide who's the bigger enemy; Shia militias that rampage through Sunni towns or Islamic State fanatics who execute anyone they don't much care for.

ISIS’s defeat in Tikrit could not have happened without thousands of Shiite militia members, many trained, advised and armed by Iranian Quds force members. When Iraqi and militas forces faltered, the U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes on the condition that Iranian advisers on the ground leave.

But in Ramadi, which sits 70 miles northwest of Baghdad, there is no significant Shiite militia presence. Rather, there’s an Iraqi Security forces that is struggling to fend off the ISIS threat on its own.

Should Iraqi forces appear to only be able to win with the help of militiamen that reportedly looted their communities, it could exacerbate the very same sectarian tensions that led to the rise of ISIS.

“It can increase Sunni resentment and can set the stage of future Sunni resistance against Shiite advancement,” Gartenstein-Ross said. Given that the groups were also backed in some way by Iran “creates risks of perception of regional Shite war.”

And with less territory to control, there could be more ISIS fighters available to move to other areas to “surge them somewhere else or try to capture new territory.”

A week ago, the administration was debating whether they should try to retake Mosul this spring or wait until the fall. Now they have disaster staring them in the face and the best they can do is pretend that what matters almost more than anything, doesn't matter at all.

If Ramadi falls, most of Anbar goes with it and civil war with the Shia militias becomes more likely. That's a scenario that would blow up US plans for the future in Iraq and allow Islamic State a virtual free hand in the western and central parts of the country.

Every time the administration tries to spin the war against Islamic State in Iraq as going well, IS fighters make them out to be liars.

Last week, the administration trotted a Pentagon spokesman out to tell the press that US coalition efforts have pushed Islamic State out of 30% of the territory they captured last year.

No problem, says IS. We'll just take Ramadi and make you look like fools.

Ramadi, the city in Anbar province that has earned a place in the Marine Corps history as a bloody victory in 2005, is under a dire threat from Islamic State forces who are attacking the outskirts and threatening to overturn the US plans in Iraq.

The administration is downplaying the threat, saying that if IS takes Ramadi, it won't be a big deal. But the Iraqi government begs to differ and is pouring troops into the battle to keep IS from overrunning the city.

Although troops and armed tribesmen had previously been able to stop the militants reaching the compound that hosts the provincial government and security headquarters, Mr Fahdawi said it was now within range of their weapons.

The interior ministry has sent "an urgent response unit", but Mr Fahdawi said the reinforcements were insufficient to repel the assault.

Another member of the provincial council insisted that Ramadi was not falling.

But Farhan Mohammed told the BBC that while Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi were both out of the country, Anbar was in the midst of a major battle.

He accused the government in Baghdad of not being serious about tackling the crisis in the province.

The BBC's Paul Adams says Anbar is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and its leaders have accused the Shia-dominated government of ignoring their concerns - something that has helped to turn Anbar into fertile territory for IS.

The latest fighting is taking its toll on the people of Ramadi, who have suffered terribly for more than a decade, our correspondent adds.

More than 2,000 families had fled from their homes because of the fighting, migration ministry official Sattar Nowruz told AP.

How bad would it be if IS took Ramadi? You will note the tone of frustration by the Sunni leader, chastizing the government for not caring. This is is the suspiciion harbored by many Sunnis in Anbar, who can't decide who's the bigger enemy; Shia militias that rampage through Sunni towns or Islamic State fanatics who execute anyone they don't much care for.

ISIS’s defeat in Tikrit could not have happened without thousands of Shiite militia members, many trained, advised and armed by Iranian Quds force members. When Iraqi and militas forces faltered, the U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes on the condition that Iranian advisers on the ground leave.

But in Ramadi, which sits 70 miles northwest of Baghdad, there is no significant Shiite militia presence. Rather, there’s an Iraqi Security forces that is struggling to fend off the ISIS threat on its own.

Should Iraqi forces appear to only be able to win with the help of militiamen that reportedly looted their communities, it could exacerbate the very same sectarian tensions that led to the rise of ISIS.

“It can increase Sunni resentment and can set the stage of future Sunni resistance against Shiite advancement,” Gartenstein-Ross said. Given that the groups were also backed in some way by Iran “creates risks of perception of regional Shite war.”

And with less territory to control, there could be more ISIS fighters available to move to other areas to “surge them somewhere else or try to capture new territory.”

A week ago, the administration was debating whether they should try to retake Mosul this spring or wait until the fall. Now they have disaster staring them in the face and the best they can do is pretend that what matters almost more than anything, doesn't matter at all.

If Ramadi falls, most of Anbar goes with it and civil war with the Shia militias becomes more likely. That's a scenario that would blow up US plans for the future in Iraq and allow Islamic State a virtual free hand in the western and central parts of the country.