Militants calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq operated in Anbar province since they formed in 2006. During the insurgency against U.S. occupation, they built up their institutions under the al- Qaeda umbrella. In their writings, ISI advocated a more nebulous definition of statehood as it related to an Islamic caliphate. Their fighters battled the US forces, the Iraqi government and carried out attacks in and upon civilian areas. These acts built credibility within jihadist circles and captured pockets of territory for the group.
ISI continued its activities after the U.S. forces largely withdrew from Iraq in 2011. The breakdown of security in neighboring Syria advanced the group’s interests. On April 8, 2013, the group re-branded itself as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, announcing a merger with Jabhat al- Nusra. This began the eventual split from al- Qaeda, marking another step in the group’s evolution.
By the summer of 2014, an ongoing rift between some Anbar tribes and the central government provided another opportunity for ISIS. The group had maintained a presence in Anbar Governorate and the regional capital, Ramadi. In the months before declaring statehood, ISIS pursued its agenda aggressively.
On June 3, 2014, Mohammed Khamis Abu Risha visited a checkpoint in Ramadi, staffed by his own men, Reuters wrote. Then someone embraced him and detonated a suicide vest, reportedly killing the commander and four bodyguards. Abu Risha was the head of the Ramadi Awakening Council, a government supported group fighting for control of Anbar Governorate, according to CNN.
A few days later gunman stormed University of Anbar in Ramadi, taking hostages. They detained students and staff inside a dormitory. A hostage told AFP that one of the gunman identified himself as belonging to ISIS. A professor told Aawsat that 5,000 students were trapped. Security forces advanced on the militants, who retreated.
The hostages evacuated on buses, wrote RFE/RL. No civilians were harmed in the incident, said Sabah Karhout, the head of Anbar’s provincial council. Ramadi’s hospital reportedly received the body of one student and one policeman, sources told Reuters.
The same day as this attack, a car bomb also exploded in Ramadi, killing 3 and injuring 10, reported Al Jazeera. Similar violent incidents occurred to Baghdad’s north around Mosul, and east in the Diyala Governorate, according to reports.
A guard at the university told Reuters he thought Humeyrah to be true goal of the attack. Controlling that area behind the university would give the militants a direct line of travel to their people in Ramadi, he said. At that time, government forces controlled central Ramadi while militants occupied much of the suburbs.
Meanwhile, the Directorate of Education in Anbar launched catch-up classes for children displaced by the violence, in coordination with UNICEF.
The first week of June would be the deadliest of the year, wrote Musings on Iraq. Their research counted 587 killed and 1,022 wounded between June 1 through 7 alone.
In response to the fighting, the Jordanian Armed Forces reportedly doubled their presence along the Iraq-Jordanian border, sources told The Jordan Times. Reinforcements arrived in Ramadi to assist the Awakening forces against ISIS, reported al-Alam on June 21. The same day, ISIS took control of Rawa, Anah, Husaybah and the border crossing at al- Qaim, CNN quoted Iraqi security officials as saying.
Analyses by the BBC concluded that the militants aimed to connect contiguous territory from their bases in Syria to Fallujah. From there, they could mount a proper assault on Baghdad. In Baghdad, Shiite militia fighters marched in force, parading through the city in combat dress. This show of force further articulated sectarian divisions within Iraq.
The next day, Iraq’s ambassador to Iran stated that Iraq had not yet asked Iran or any other nation to assist in the fighting. Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei of Iran also issued statements, condemning any US escalation in Iraq.
On Wednesday, ISIS fighters crossed the Euphrates River to attack Burwana, RFE/RL reported. On Saturday, a roadside bomb killed 9 security personnel and ISIS shelling of Ramadi killed 9 civilians, reported The Times of India.
On Sunday June 29, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria shortened it’s name to simply “The Islamic State” or “IS.” In a document entitled “This is the promise of Allah,” the declared their territorial holdings to be a caliphate.
Pertaining to their desire for a religious government, the statement said “[The Arabs] were in dispute and broken up; they were dispersed and had infighting, striking each other’s necks, suffering hunger, lack of unity, and capture. Then, when Allah blessed them with Islam and they believed, Allah unified them, united their ranks, honored them after their humiliation, enriched them after their poverty, and brought their hearts together, all through Islam. Thus, by the grace of Allah, they became brothers.”
As July rolled around, Jordan continued to ramp up its border security with Iraq, wrote al- Monitor. Witnesses reported seeing as many as 10 tanks around Karameh. On the 11th, ISIS launched an attack which killed 11 police and wounded 24 others, AFP reported.
Religious leaders issued calls for young men to fight the insurgency. Green recruits began to fill out the ranks of the Iraqi Army and militias mobilized to join the fight, Reuters wrote.
Government troops forced from 5 Kilo area of Ramadi, a pro-uprising video claims.
Amidst the struggle for Ramadi, reporters witnessed Shia militiamen drag the bodies of Islamic State group fighters through the street. The corpses were then hung for display, AFP reported.
Concern also rose that the Iraqi military used barrel bombs on Fallujah and Ramadi. Pro government officials told Rudaw that this was untrue. Despite official statements, much of Iraq’s Sunni population remained wary of the central government. Some Sunni tribesmen began to push for a regional military force based off the Kurdish Peshmerga, Rudaw reported. They argued that a force of locals should provide security for the area, the article said.
The Iraqi Ministry of Defense mocks Islamic State militants.
On August 31, a VBIED exploded upon a Ramadi construction site, killing 22 security personnel and 15 civilians, Reuters reported.The next week, US airpower struck ISIS targets near Haditha Dam, Al Jazeera reported. Besides the town’s location to the northwest of Ramadi, control of the dam means control of the Euphrades on its south side. Following up on their success, Iraqi forces launched a clearing operation in the area around the dam, al- Alam wrote.
The following Saturday, Iraqi Prime Minister Abidi declared and end to barrel bombing, the Independent wrote. A few days later, tribal and government forces launched an offensive in Ramadi, reported Reuters. A suicide bomb destroyed Albu Faraj Bridge on the north side of Ramadi, according to AFP. This further constricted movement in and out of the city.
In the midst of the fight, leadership, logistics and unity issues asserted themselves. Some Sunni tribes remained mistrustful of the Baghdad government, the New York Times wrote. In Northeast Ramadi, soldiers at Albu Etha reported supply shortages, namely ammunition. Repeated calls for aid went answered, so the unit withdrew to avoid being overrun, the New York Times reported. A few days later, ISIS media released images showing a burned out convoy near Albu Etha, reported The Long War Journal.
On October 2, ISIS attacked government positions in Hit, Reuters wrote. Local security sources reported that the militants were better armed than authorities. By Saturday October 4, the group would have full control of Hit, according to Reuters. 180 people fled the militants’ advance, according to the UN. Faleh al-Issawi, the deputy head of Anbar Provincial Council, said ISIS controlled 80 percent of Anbar Governorate, reported AFP.
By October 12, both inmates and security forces had withdrawn from two prisons in central Ramadi, reported VOA. Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Dulaimi, chief of Anbar’s police, died after a car bomb detonated near his convoy north of Anbar, AP wrote. Around this time, ISIS released images demonstrating its control over parts of Ramadi. The Long War Journal identified the 7 Kilo and Albu Eytha from among the photos. Security forces instituted a curfew in the city, reported AP.
Part of ISIS strategy involved the seizure of energy and water resources, wrote al- Akbar. The group attacked the town of Haditha, hoping to seize the hydroelectric dam bridging the Euphrates river. The militant’s capture of Hit earlier in the month effectively surrounded Haditha, choking it of supplies.
If ISIS captured the dam, they could flood downriver with water from Haditha Dam Lake, (al-Qadisiyah Lake) according to al- Akbar. The Euphrates flows south-southeast through Ramadi, Fallujah and on to Baghdad, putting all these areas at risk.
Ayn al- Asad Airbase airbase northwest of Hit remained surrounded though stable, wrote Reuters. The Iraqi army seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and twelfth division were in bad shape, the report read. Sunni militias continued fighting throughout Anbar Governorate, but their requests for aid became more urgent.
The Albu Nimir tribe of reportedly clashed with ISIS at Zuait Albu Nimr, but began to run low on supplies. Without resupply and reinforcement ISIS would soon overrun their position, a tribe representative told Reuters.
— Agathocle deSyracuse (@deSyracuse) October 20, 2014
Drawing pro-government reinforcements to Anbar allowed ISIS militants to threaten other fronts, like Kirkuk, wrote al- Akbar. On October 23, ISIS took Albu Nimir in the west of Ramadi, reports said. When the town fell, ISIS reportedly rounded 30 individuals and executed them near al- Bikr, reported Iraqi News.
Iraqi forces uncovered mass graves in Hit and Ramadi, according to The Telegraph. The capture and execution of the victims took place the previous week, authorities said. Many of the dead were presumed to be members of the Albu Nimir tribe, and others which fought ISIS.
As November arrived, security forces fought with Islamic State militants in the al- Andalus, Khalidiya and al- Hoz areas of Ramadi, according to Shafaq News. Tribal and government troops fought off an ISIS attack on Khalidiya Island, according to the report. A mixed force launched an operation against the militants in Albu Etha, Shafaq News wrote.
Airstrikes carried out on ISIS around Hit.
ISIS broke into Albu Nimir and executed 50 members of the Albu Nimir tribe plus 35 others in a separate incident, security and tribal sources told Reuters. A leader in the tribe told Iraqi News that 67 people were massacred in yet another incident, with at least 200 tribesmen taken. Many of the Albu Nimir tribe escaped in time, but others were intercepted and captured, reported al- Akbar. Amid scattered reports and body counts, al- Akbar wrote that around 300 tribesmen had been killed in the past few days.
The Iraqi Ministry of Defense recorded aid delivered to the Albu Nimir tribe in Hit.
Similar reports would continue in coming weeks. ISIS brutality is part of its internal governing policy, forcing tribes to either cooperate, die or submit, The New York Times wrote. As Islamic State militants consolidated their territory, it would be important for them to remove any sworn enemies. Sheikh Naim al-Gaood of the Albu Nimir tribe told The New York Times, “They come in with a list of names and are more organized than state intelligence.”
Iraqi forces dispatched from Ayn al- Asad airbase to reinforce a group of 3,000 tribal fighters who blockaded Hit, according to Colonel Shaaban al-Abidi, leader of the Army Brigade of al- Baghdadi district. On Nov. 10, the Pentagon confirmed the presence of 50 US personnel in Ayn al-Asad airbase, but clarified that they would not bypass Baghdad in giving arms to local forces. Gen. Martin Dempsey said these troops would train, advise and assist.
Meanwhile, a mixed force of government and local fighters retook al- Majr, according to Iraqi News. Shiite militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, or the “League of the Righteous,” threatened to make Iraq a graveyard for ISIS.
On Nov. 20, NPR reported that the Albu Nimir tribe remained committed to the fight against ISIS. However their defeat to ISIS and withdraw to Haditha took its toll, some of the tribe’s leaders said.
That Saturday government and local fighters attacked ISIS in the Shujariya neighborhood, with both sides reportedly firing mortars, AP wrote. ISIS executed several members of the Albu Fahd tribe, while an airstrike killed several civilians in Hit, according to the report. Pro-government forces found 25 bodies of the Albu Fahd tribe while securing Shujariya, reported Reuters. CNN wrote that in coordination with coalition airstrikes, Iraqi forces reversed some of ISIS gains.
On Nov. 26, ISIS launched a heavy assault on the government complex, which government forces held off, reported RFE/RL. Officers on the scene told AFP that soldiers and hundreds of tribesmen defended the government complex after withdrawing from al-Hoz district. Four pro-government soldiers died and 11 were wounded, reported al- Akbar. Sheikh Rafea Al-Fahdawi hailed government success in the region and called for more assistance in the fight for, reported Asharq al- Awsat.
Joint forces conduct operations between Hit and al- Mahboubiya
Fighting continued in the al-Hoz district, with security forces halting a VBIED before it reached effective range, reported Iraqi News. ISIS attacked the border crossing with Syria at al- Walid and killed 16 guards, wrote al-Akbar. The forces of the Albu Nimir tribe began to run out of ammunition, their Shiekh Naim Al-Kaoud told Asharq al- Awsat.
On Dec. 7, ISIS publicly executed more members of the Albu Nimir tribe, al- Akbar reported. A police source in Anbar told them that fighting broke out in al-Hoz. The next day defenders in the government complex held off another ISIS push, according to Iraqi News.
Meanwhile, representatives of some Anbar tribes petitioned for arms with increasing urgency, reported al-Arabiya. The regular fighting degraded the humanitarian situation in Anbar, with food and fuel becoming difficult to distribute, wrote RFE/RL.
The militant group hit al- Wafa, killing 19 policemen and trapping the town’s mayor within the police station, reported Reuters. Pro-government tribesman said they found 21 people shot execution style in a orchard near Kubaisa.
On Dec. 11, fighting intensified on multiple fronts within the city of Ramadi, Anbar Daily wrote. Police and security forces also reportedly assaulted ISIS at Hit, but the militants withstood the attack. ISIS took 35 more members of the Albu Namir tribe captive around al- Mahboubiya, al-Arabiya reported.
The Islamic State group also retook 15 villages previously controlled by the Anbar tribes. Five thousand members of the Albu Namir tribe sat encircled by ISIS, Naim al-Goud told RFE/RL. An apparent slowdown of coalition airstrikes also frustrated local Anbar leaders.
In response to ISIS advances near Ayn al- Asad airbase, US forces reportedly clashed with the militants in al- Dolab, wrote Shafaq News. Children caught fleeing al- Wafa were killed, their bodies arriving at Ramadi hospital, wrote RFE/RL.
On Dec. 21, tribal fighters retook al- Wafa, reported Iraqi News. In the wake of the victory, Anbar tribal coalition leader Faris Ibrahim reportedly told Aawsat, “Things are not totally awful here, but they are not rosy, either.”
ISIS released images celebrating its foreign suicide bombers, reported The Long War Journal.
On Saturday ISIS forces surrounded three villages containing 1,000 families, Sheikh Naim Gaood of the Albu Nimir told Iraqi News. Members of the al- Obeidi, Albuaamr and Aqaysian families reportedly lived in these villages to the west of Ramadi. Other Sunni leaders from Anbar spoke out against Iranian involvement in Iraq’s military in a report by Rudaw.
As January 2015 rolled around, the ink on the past year’s statistics dried. During 2014, 15,000 civilians and security personnel died as a result of violence, AFP reported. Seventy-five percent of Anbar residents fled, leader Karim Al-Fahdawi told Asharq al- Awsat.
— Peto Lucem (@PetoLucem) January 5, 2015
The intense fighting did not interrupt US advising in Ayn al-Asad, a Pentagon spokesman told VOA. In Ramadi, security forces carried out attacks in al- Hoz, al- Andalus, and al- Mualamin, reported RFE/RL. A joint force of police, security forces and tribal fighters secured the area of al- Jabbah, a provincial council source told Iraqi News.
On Sunday, Jan. 18, Islamic State militants attacked and razed the compound of anti-ISIS tribal leader Ahmed Abu Risha, wrote Al Jazeera. The assault reportedly came as Abu Risha and other leaders from Anbar lobbied for aid in Washington D.C. from the United States. Security forces reportedly regained the compound by Wednesday, to find that the militants left traps behind. In Ramadi, security forces reportedly held off an ISIS attack on the al- Andalus neighborhood.
Fighting in al- Khasfah, near Haditha.
A coalition airstrike killed ISIS leader Rafee Iyad Obeid in the area of Albu Risha, reported Shafaq News. in the east of Ramadi, ISIS advanced in the Albu Ghanim area, and Anbar Provincial Council source told Iraqi News. The tribe told Baghdad that it would withdraw from the fight without immediate supply of proper arms.
In January, the UN counted 1,375 killed in government territory, reported al- Akbar. 585 were reported to be Iraqi army, leaving the remaining 790 as civilians. These numbers excluded territories controlled by ISIS.
On February 6, ISIS once again attacked the government compound in Ramadi and was stopped by security and tribal forces, wrote the Institute for the Study of War. More fighting broke out in al- Hoz, and authorities reportedly issued a vehicle curfew to protect Friday prayers.
Security forces and Hashd al- Shaabi attacked Humeyra on Sunday February 8, wrote Rudaw. Their objective would reportedly be to then recapture the eastern portions of Ramadi lost to ISIS. The local tribesman held off an attack in Albu Ghanim, according to Iraqi News.
In the western part of the city, a government and tribal joint force attacked ISIS in al- Sahl, al-Mudham, al- Ghabat and al-Makhazin, a security source told Iraqi News. In al- Mudham village, they reportedly captured an ISIS leader named Ali al-Hayani. Security forces claimed 90 percent of al- Bagdhadi district, wrote Iraqi News. Sources from among Anbar’s Sunni tribes seemed to express mixed opinions and feeling about the participation of the Hashd al- Shaabi, according to al- Monitor.
ISIS kidnapped 30 members of the tribe al-Obeid in al-Mashad of al- Baghdadi district, Malollah al-Obeidi of the al- Baghdadi Provincial Council told Iraqi News. An Anbar operations commander stressed a need for reinforcements in the face of regular rocket attacks. Sheikh Naim Albu Nimr Gaood told the publication that ISIS dug an execution trench in Hit.
The militants encircled a residential complex in al- Bagdhadi, reported al- Alam. The residents defended their positions while security forces reportedly attempted to break into them. Fighting reportedly continued in the al-Hoz area in Ramadi.
Abandoned Iraqi security vehicles near Ramadi.
On Wednesday, March 11, around 7:00 a.m., a coordinated ISIS assault commenced upon government-held areas of Ramadi. At least 7 car bombs reportedly deployed and detonated at nearly the same time in the areas of al- Hoz, Malaab, Toi, Albu Faraj and Albu Eitha. The defenders kept their positions. ISIS social media celebrated their foreign suicide bombers, reported The Long War Journal.
This push came as pro-government forces made advances in Tikrit, to the north of Baghdad. Tikrit and Baiji to the north provide access to the province of Nineveh and the city of Mosul. But Iraqi forces would prioritize Anbar before striking the Islamic State group at their Iraqi capital, reported the New York Times.
The forces within downtown Ramadi fought off an attack on the Counter-Terrorism Directorate on March 22, according to Iraqi News. In the following days, Ramadi’s defenders stopped attacks in al- Karma district, the Japanese bridge, and the police station in al- Hoz, according to Iraqi News.
On April 8, joint government and tribal forces attacked the Islamic State group at Shujariya near Ramadi, reported the New York Times. Chairman of the Anbar Provincial Council Sabah Karhot said this was the beginning of operation to liberate Anbar, just a week after the government’s official declaration of victory in Tikrit.
“@_RK_88_: . @_RK_88_ Explosion earlier in Ramadi + map of situation on the ground. pic.twitter.com/7g34X6lRBm”
— Hassan Ridha (@sayed_ridha) April 10, 2015
According to the New York Times, spokesman for Baghdad Operations Command Saad Maan denied any official start of operations, suggesting that the Anbar leader was in a rush. The attack on Sajariya faltered after pro-government forces used up their ammunition, reported the New York Times.
The Islamic State group overran Albu Faraj days later, hitting a convoy of police reinforcements with a suicide bomber and killing a police commander, according the New York Times. ISIS released images along with this attack, reported The Long War Journal.
Defenders held off another attack by Islamic State militants in western Ramadi, reported Iraqi News. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi reiterated his government’s goal in recapturing Anbar Governorate next, wrote al-Albawaba.
The next day, pro-government forces attacked the militants in al- Hamdiyyah by way of Nazim Thar Thar and the Japanese bridge, a tribe source told Iraqi News. They also reported success in al- Shujariya and Falahat in the east of Ramadi.
The Islamic State group detonated a bridge to Albu Faraj district, reported VOA. Witnesses said militants control Albu Faraj. After consolidating their control of the area, the group executed 15 civilians, reported ARA News.
— Islamic World News (@A7_Mirza) April 6, 2015
The Iraqi government withdrew Shiite militias at the urgent request of the United States and local tribes, wrote the New York Times on April 12. After the withdraw of these forces, the U.S.-led coalition reportedly escalated bombing in Anbar. In Ramadi, the Islamic State group executed 35 members of the Albu Foraj tribes for cooperating with government forces, reported Iraqi News.
The Iraqi Air Force delivers aid to civilians in Anbar.
On April 15, Falih Essawi of the Anbar Provincial Council warned CNN that government forces in Ramadi were running out of time. Citing a need for reinforcements and additional air support, he said that Ramadi could potential fall to Islamic State militants. The group’s fighters took Shujariyah, Albu Ghanim and Soufiya from government control, reported AP. Three thousand Hashd al- Shaabi arrived as reinforcements, wrote RFE/RL.
Report on Ramadi fighting by Voice of America.
Masses of civilians fled the city, reported AP. Pro-government forces cleared the road between Sajariyah town and Ramadi’s Soufiya district, reported Rudaw. On April 20, the government recaptured a hospital in al- Hoz neighborhood, while fighting continued in Soufiya, according to Rudaw.
Prime Minister Abidi also ordered Brigade 14 of the Hashd al- Shaabi to reinforce the city, reported Rudaw. Police sources later gave the reinforcements credit for ensuring their success in Soufiya and al- Hoz, reported AP.
That Thursday, pro-government forces clashed with the Islamic State militants in Ramadi city and shelled an ISIS position in Albu Ziyad, reported Iraqi News. Traps and landlines impeded pro-government forces from advancing after their gains in Soufiya, Brig. Gen. Mohammad al- Khalaf told Rudaw.
On April 24, security forces recaptured al-Hoz bridge, a police official told al-Arabiya. Pro-government forces engaged in heavy house-to-house fighting, officers told Rudaw in a video interview. Pro-government forces continued to advance by way of Sabihat and al-Soufiya, reported Iraqi News. The fighting reportedly killed 30 police and wounded 100, wrote AFP.
— Green lemon (@green_lemonnn) April 29, 2015
Troops defending Abu Faraj held on to their positions, reported Iraqi News. Anbar tribal leaders continued to report executions by Islamic State militants in areas they control. Some Iraqi politicians began to propose using Iranian-backed militias in Anbar, wrote Reuters. This idea received mixed responses from tribal leaders in the western province.
Ramadi began to run low on fuel after Islamic State militants seized Ramadi Gas Plant, wrote Iraqi News on April 30.
Brigade 16 of the Iraqi Army deployed to Ayn al- Assad base in preparation for operations in Ramadi, wrote Shafaq News on May 2. Days later pro-government forces held al- Soufiya and Zanqurah from attacks by Islamic State militants, a Golden Division officer told Iraqi News. Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Center found 2.2 million Iraqis displaced by the widespread violence.
Militants attacked Jarisha and Soufiya, though the central areas including the marketplace remained quite and open, wrote Anbar Daily on May 11. They also attacked al- Fursan in the south of Ramadi, wrote Iraqi News. The next day, scattered fighting reportedly took place across the city, including Albu Farraj, al- Hoz, and Soufiya.
During the night of May 14, Islamic State militants assaulted government positions in Ramadi. After VBIEDS exploded in a coordinated manner, militants broke through and took control of most of the city by the evening of Friday May 15. This included the government complex in the city center. The militants used a sandstorm as cover from airstrikes, according to The New York Times.
Graphic Content Warning
Helmet camera footage of Ramadi fighting from the ISIS propaganda release
“And they Give Zakah”
— Islamic World News (@A7_Mirza) May 15, 2015
— Islamic World News (@A7_Mirza) May 20, 2015
Civilians Flee Ramadi, uploaded May 15.
Tribal leaders reported massacres as pro-government positions collapsed. They also decried a failure as they saw it of authorities to furnish reinforcements, supplies and arms in a timely manner. Some officials denied that the militants controlled all of the city, but Anbar provincial council member Rajah Aissawi called it a catastrophe, according to VOA.
The Islamic State militants consolidated their control over the city and attacked the government holdouts in the Stadium district, wrote Anbar Daily. Civilians continued the flee the city and militants began to cross from Syria by way of al- Qaim, according to the blog.
— Islamic World News (@A7_Mirza) May 18, 2015
Two helicopters extract surrounded troops from Ramadi.
Click here for more information on ISIS’ initial power grab and their capture of Tikrit.
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