Islamic State take Ramadi, but U.S. says they're 'on the defensive'
Islamic State forces took the city of Ramadi on Friday, sending Iraqi government forces fleeing and raising their black flag over the government building in the center of town.
Reports say that there is now only scattered resistance in Ramadi, and the terrorists are threatening a large military base on the outskirts of town, as well as a major dam nearby.
Ramadi was the last large population center in Anbar province to fall to the terrorists.
A U.S. military spokesman claims that while Ramadi is a vital city, there really is nothing to worry about, because the Islamic State attack is really part of a social media propaganda campaign.
Despite major new setbacks in Iraq, the U.S. military command leading the fight against Islamic State militants insisted Friday that its strategy is working and that the militants’ takeover of a key oil refinery and a government compound are fleeting gains feeding an IS propaganda machine.
“We believe across Iraq and Syria that Daesh is losing and remains on the defensive,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, chief of staff for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the name of the international campaign fighting IS. “Daesh” is the Arabic acronym for the militant group that swept into Iraq from Syria last June and swiftly took control of much of Iraq’s north and west.
Even as Weidley spoke to reporters by phone from his headquarters in Kuwait, IS militants were defying his description of them as a force on defense. Iraqi officials said IS fighters had captured the main government compound in Ramadi, the capital of battle-scarred Anbar province. Other officials said they had gained substantial control over the Beiji oil refinery, a strategically important prize in the battle for Iraq’s future and a potential source of millions of dollars in income for the militants.
The battle to push IS out of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, which some had hoped would begin this spring, now seems a more distant goal.
Weidley appeared to be pressing his own "information campaign" designed to counter the militants' message of defiance. While conceding the militants' were managing "episodic control" of certain terrain in Iraq, he insisted their advances were minor and unsustainable.
The State Department offered a similar assessment. "There will be good days and bad days in Iraq," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said. "ISIL is trying to make today a bad day in Ramadi. We've said all along we see this as a long-term fight."
Weidley said IS fighters had launched a complex attack Friday on Ramadi as part of an effort to "feed their information and propaganda apparatus." He said he could not confirm how much of the city had been lost to IS on Friday or what percentage remains in Iraqi control. He said his command had seen Islamic State social media postings of photos that depict a successful Ramadi offensive.
"This is similar to the (techniques) they've used in the past where they've conducted attacks trying to gain social media gains by taking photos and documenting small-term gains and then using it for propaganda purposes," Weidley said, adding that IS was inflating the importance of its success.
"We've seen similar attacks in Ramadi over the last several months for which the ISF (Iraqi security forces) have been able to repel, and we see this one being similar to those," he said, adding that the U.S. is confident the Iraqi government will be able to take back the terrain it has lost in Ramadi.
Shades of Baghdad Bob? In fact, the Iraqi army ran away, enabling Islamic State fighters to move into most of the city. They are also threatening the two smaller but strategically vital towns of Baghdadi and Karmah:
Islamic State forces also appeared to be closing in on government positions in two other key locations in Anbar province, the towns of Baghdadi and Karmah, in a broad offensive that if successful would end the government presence in any of the province’s major population centers. The capture of Baghdadi also would cut the supply lines to the Iraqi garrison protecting the strategic Haditha Dam.
At Ramadi, government troops were still fighting in some isolated areas. But the city was essentially under the control of the Islamic State after a fierce assault that began with a series of car bombs on Iraqi government security facilities overnight. By late afternoon, security forces appeared to be in full flight as militants consolidated control over the area and prevented anyone from leaving.
Does that sound like an army conducting a propaganda campaign on social media? There is strategic depth to this Ramadi campaign, in that they are now threatening several vital installations in Anbar.
It's one thing to fudge news from the war, but it's quite another to sugarcoat disaster. The fall of Ramadi is a major strategic setback for the Iraqi government and serves only to solidify Islamic State positions in the country.