Keeping Ramadi: Part 2

Keeping Ramadi 2

Finger-pointing abounded in the week following Ramadi’s capture by Islamic State militants on May 17, 2015. U.S. media and military officials insinuated Iraqi forces withdrew without a putting up resistance, despite the year of hard fighting within the city. Following the setback, security forces moved in on Ramadi, intent on recapturing it.

ISIS release from late May 2015, shows urban fighting in Ramadi.

Security forces attacked Islamic State militants at Taesh and Humeyrah, neighborhoods along Ramadi’s southern outskirts, wrote AFP on May 27, 2015. They also seized the University of Anbar compound and defeated the militants at al- Ankur, CNN reported. The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, also called the Golden Division, carried out the university operation, wrote AFP.

The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) participated in this assault. Controversy arose when a PMF source declared the Ramadi mission’s code name to be “Labiaik, ya Hussein.” Fears arose that this might inflame sectarian tensions with the area’s mainly Sunni residents. Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi later stated that the operation was to be called “Labiaik, ya Iraq,” denying ever using the explicitly Shiite slogan.

Army and PMF troops captured a police building in Ramadi’s western neighborhood of 5 km, wrote AFP. Along the west and south of the city, security forces reportedly solidified the positions taken that week.

Islamic State militants began restricting the Euphrates by closing the gates on a dam in Ramadi, wrote AFP. This move cut the water supply for Khalidiyah and Habbaniya to a trickle. These towns would suffer a humanitarian crisis if the blockage continued, said a leader of the Albu Fahad tribe. ISIS main goal for reducing the river would be for military mobility purposes, a water expert told AFP. Keeping some of the gates open allowed needed water to flow on to ISIS holdings in Fallujah, another source suggested to CNN.

On Monday, July 14, army, militia and police forces began an offensive across Anbar Governorate, wrote Reuters. The push contained more Sunni tribal fighters than the recent battle in Tikrit, wrote The Wall Street Journal. Anti-ISIS forces captured a stadium in western Ramadi that first day, a government spokesman said. Coalition aircraft delivered 29 airstrikes around Ramadi in preparation for the assault, reports indicated.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited Baghdad during this time. After a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi, Carter announced that around 3,000 US-trained Iraqi troops now deployed against ISIS. They joined roughly 500 Sunni tribesman and an unknown number of other security forces, wrote Reuters. Estimates put ISIS resistance inside Ramadi around 1,000 to 2,000, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told Reuters.

The Golden Division combs through Ramadi.

With army and air support, the Golden Division recaptured University of Anbar on Sunday, July 26, wrote AFP. Islamic State militants attacked with suicide car bombings, killing around 18, wrote AP.

A force of 10,000 troops now surrounded Ramadi, reported USA today. Iraqi forces began tightening their grip around the city to deny escape routes. A U.S. Navy source called the advance “slow, methodical, deliberate…” Given summer temperatures approaching 48.8 C (120 F),  supplying needed water would be a logistical challenge for any sustained assault, wrote USA Today. U.S. officials would not give a specific time frame for the final assault on Ramadi.

Meanwhile, Haider al- Abadi ordered court martial proceedings for officers who withdrew from Ramadi, reported Reuters. On August 27, two generals and three soldiers died in an ISIS suicide bombing north of the city, wrote al- Jazeera.

Badr Organization militiamen caught in a sandstorm outside of Ramadi. 

Over a month after Iraqi forces encircled Ramadi, some began to criticize the speed of the operation. The mission to isolate the pocket drug on, wrote The Washington Post. Defensive fortifications, heat and booby traps slowed the progress of security forces, a U.S. official said. High demand across Iraq and Syria limited the number of airstrikes available for the operation, Maj. Gen. Qasim al-Mohammadi said. U.S. officials urged Iraqi security forces to move “as quickly as possible,” wrote Reuters.

On Oct. 7, AFP reported progress in Albu Julaib, , 5 km and parts of Albu Risha. Security forces took control of the main road leading into the west of Ramadi, wrote AFP. Two thousand ground troops participated in this operation, reportedly with air support from the U.S.-led coalition.

Col. Warren said that coalition trained soldiers now fought in Ramadi, and that a final assault would start in days. Security forces continued to advance through the city’s suburbs towards the center, wrote CBS News.

Voice of America reports on Ramadi. 

Weeks later, Maj. Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi said reinforcements and equipment were still arriving for the coming assault, wrote Iraqi News on Nov. 10. Xinhau reported armor, infantry and artillery deploying to Khalidiya , just east of Ramadi. Civilians continued to flee the city and security forces let them through the lines after checking identification, according to Xinhau.

Iraqi forces recaptured the emergency directorate headquarters on Friday, Nov. 13, wrote Al Bawaba. On Dec. 7, the Counter Terrorism Service cleared the south-western neighborhood of Ta’mim, wrote BBC News. By that point in time, security forces claimed control over the Albu Farraj, Albu Ziyab, Taesh and the University of Anbar areas, according to BBC News.

Much anticipated, the big assault came at dawn of Dec. 22, reported BBC News. The force consisted of CTS, army, police and Sunni tribesmen. Notably absent were the Popular Mobilization Forces, who were kept out of the Ramadi fighting, according to BBC News. Portable bridges deployed across the Euphrates let anti-ISIS forces cross directly into contested neighborhoods.

On Dec. 27, Iraqi forces captured the government complex in the city center, wrote Reuters. An Iraqi spokesman claimed to have “defeated [ISIS] in Ramadi,” while clarifying that the fighting was not yet finished. Pockets of Islamic State militants still resisted in other parts of the city.

Prime Minister Abadi said local police and Sunni tribesmen would handle security after the fight ended. Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool said it would “be a relief for the civilians” to have their own tribes in charge. Security forces recovered more families trapped inside the city.

Celebrations in Baghdad after the announcement of victory in Ramadi.

Islamic State militants continued to fight to the north and east of the city center. Security forces braced for an attack northwest of Ramadi in Hadithareported Iraqi News on Jan. 5, 2016. Iraqi army and coalition aircraft fired on the convoys heading to the battle site, an Anbar Provincial Council source said.

Security forces captured Ramadi General Hospital, a commander told Iraqi News. The operation also targeted Great Mosque of Ramadi, the Jan. 7 report said.

Elite counter-terrorism troops largely lead the way in the retaking of the city. Iraqi leadership co-opted the Counter Terrorism Service for broader tasks as a result of inefficiencies within the regular army, a CTS officer told The Wall Street Journal. While special forces units often get results, overuse bears the risk of burning them out, analysts warned.

Static defenses largely aided the advance into Ramadi, the U.S. Department of Defense wrote on Jan. 8. Islamic State militants attempted to hold the front of the Iraqi column, while exploding bomb-laden trucks upon the column’s flanks. Security forces used bulldozers to build berms around their positions, continuing to advance in that manner. Iraqi engineers also built bridges across the Euphrates, a skill that will be needed again in Mosul. Fighting continued in the outer portions of Ramadi, a coalition official said.

On Jan. 9, coalition aircraft struck ISIS forces at Khalidiya Island, east of the city, wrote Iraqi News. The militants had booby trapped Ramadi’s buildings and streets extensively, slowing and endangering the continued progress of security forces. Bomb disposal teams would be required to clear the way, reported Reuters.

While clearing efforts continued, so did the evacuation of civilians. ISIS remained in Shujariya and al- Soufiya, an Iraqi official told AFP.  On Monday, Jan. 11, a group of Islamic State militants attempted to withdraw from al- Soufiya, wrote Iraqi News. The security sources said Iraqi Army Aviation struck the convoy, killing an estimated 40 militants.

Security forces and Sunni tribesmen attacked Islamic State militants in al- Soufiya, reported Xinhua. A suicide car bomb reportedly killed nine security forces at the government complex, and wounded 12 others. In al- Mala’ab district, a rigged house exploded during a search operation, reportedly killing 10 security forces and wounding six.

The Iraqi Air Force struck an Islamic State sniper position in the city, according to Al-Masdar News. Iraqi News reported fighting in the east of Ramadi and airstrikes to the west of the city, in Hit.

The use of human shields by the Islamic State militants slowed the advance of security forces, wrote AP. One woman said ISIS fighters pulled them back as they retreated within al- Soufiya. Keeping civilians nearby made it difficult for artillery or airstrikes to be used against the militants.

Transporting rescued civilians to safety also slowed troops attempting to advance. A roadside bomb killed 13 civilians attempting to evacuate al- Soufiya district, Al Jazeera wrote on Jan. 17. Explosives continued to buy time for Islamic State militants, wrote the U.S. Department of Defense.

The International Committee of the Red Cross distributes aid to civilians fleeing Ramadi.

To the east of Ramadi, security forces prepared to assault Khalidiya Island, according to Iraqi News. Fighting continued in Juwayba and Husaybah. U.S. Special Forces aided in these tasks after, reported Rudaw.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abadi requested more trainers for police, wrote AP. Local Sunni police forces would be necessary to hold Ramadi after ISIS is cleared out. Iraqi Federal Police repelled ISIS attacks in the south west of town, and attacked in Husaybah, reported Iraqi News. A police source later reported success to Rudaw.

On Monday, Jan. 25, security forces uncovered a mass grave containing 18 bodies in the Jami’ya district, wrote AFP. Meanwhile, Iraqi Army regulars underwent additional training in preparation for an offensive on Mosul, wrote Reuters. Instructors sought to instill important lessons learned from Ramadi, while brushing up on fundamental skills like shooting and moving.

That Thursday, Iraqi army units backed by air power attacked Islamic State militants in Tharthar area, a security source told Iraqi News. In Shujariya district, security forces advanced against light resistance, Maj. Gen. Mahalawi said. Even so, Al Jazeera reported 30 anti-ISIS forces killed across Ramadi that day.

Reports of mass graves continued to emerge. The bodies of the dead began to constitute a health concern, wrote Asharq Al-Awsat. The local council reportedly formed committees of health and hygiene experts to respond to the destruction and unsanitary conditions.

To the north in Albu Dhiyab, a suicide bomber reached an army position and detonated, killing 18 soldiers according to Al Jazeera. Iraqi forces reportedly attacked Islamic State militants in Shujariya. There, an estimated 300 militants held out against repeated attempts take the area, wrote Al Jazeera.

On Wednesday, Feb. 3, the Iraqi Rapid Intervention Forces attacked ISIS in the Husaybah, east of Ramadi, wrote Iraqi News. The same day, an airstrike reportedly killed several ISIS leaders in Ramadi, reported ARA News. Far west of the city, Iraqi army forces shelled militants in al- Baghdadi, wrote Iraqi News. In the north of Ramadi, Sunni tribesmen and army forces held off an ISIS attack in the north of Ramadi, according to Iraqi News.

That Friday, Dr. Abdul Latif Hamim led prayers at the Great Mosque of Ramadi, for the first time since ISIS took the city, wrote Asharq Al-Awsat. Hamim reportedly spoke in support of the security forces and the importance of taking more areas from Islamic State militants. ISIS increased attacks on Haditha, an Iraqi Army officer told ARA News.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, security forces raised the Iraqi flag over Husaybah, reported Al Jazeera. Over 150 Iraqi soldiers died in the operation, but the attack succeeded in pushing ISIS further out of the area, wrote Al Jazeera.

The clearing of ISIS from the east of Ramadi reopened a highway connecting Baghdad with Habbaniya’s military base, wrote Reuters. Officials also appealed for funds to clear the area of explosives, the report said.

That night, Prime Minister Abadi announced the full liberation of Ramadi to the Iraqi people, wrote AP. This came after the first declarations in late December, which referred to the recapture of Ramadi’s city center. Abadi also took the address to announce a reshuffle of cabinet positions meant to bring outside experts into positions. Col. Warren said that Iraqi forces controlled the entire city, but explosive traps still needed to be cleared.

Despite these success, the chance of an ISIS counterattack on Ramadi remained high, Warren said. An ISIS suicide car bomb killed over 27 Iraqi soldiers in al- Awasal, reported Al Jazeera. Security forces apprehended ISIS fighters attempting to flee the city, wrote ARA News.

On Thursday, Fighters of the Albu Namir and Albu Mahal tribes attacked Islamic State militants in Hit, reported Iraqi News.

“Iraqi Special Forces Golden Division rescuing civilians from Ramadi’s northern countryside”

Iraqi Army and Popular Mobilization forces attacked ISIS in al- Hamdiyyah, reported Al-Alam. Officials also reported a mass grave containing 50 people in al- Soufiya. Security forces held off an ISIS attack at a Federal Police headquarters in Ramadi’s west, reported Iraqi News.

Airstrikes stuck Hit, killing at least 20 civilians, reported Al Jazeera. To the far west of Ramadi, Albu Namir tribesmen and army forces attacked ISIS east of Baghdadi, reported Al-Alam.

Iraqi security forces display alleged ISIS captives.

On Feb. 19, Maj. Gen. Mahalawi declared al-  fully liberated. After clearing the way of explosives, Iraqi forces took a bridge in Ramadi’s east, reported FARS News.

Security forces evacuated nearly 4,000 civilians from the city, wrote Newsweek. Two thousand Sunni tribesmen fought at Ramadi, with another 4,000 recruited to form a police force once the fighting moved on. The violence reportedly displaced over 1.1 million residents of Anbar Governorate, out of an estimated 1.6 million people before ISIS took over. Using satellite imagery, the United Nations determined that 5,700 buildings in Ramadi required repair, and another 2,000 were completely destroyed.

Sabah al-Karhut of the Anbar Provincial Council told displaced Anbar residents to prepare to return home, reported Iraqi News on Feb. 24. The Juwayba, Husaybah, al- Soufiya,  5 km and 7 km areas were all deemed cleared and safe, although services still needed restoration.

Fighting continued in the surrounding areas of Anbar, while security forces consolidated control of the outskirts of Ramadi and cleared explosives. Islamic State militants still antagonize security forces along the edges of their holdings. Iraqi reinforcements reportedly arrived at Ayn al-Assad base for a Hit and Kubaisa clearing operation. Fallujah remains in ISIS hands to the east and Iraqi forces look north toward Mosul.

Iraqi forces reportedly leave Ramadi for Fallujah. 

Click here for more information on ISIS’ initial power grab and their capture of Tikrit.

You can also read up on the fight between the Syrian Government and Jaysh al- Fatah.

 



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