The Iraqi military completely abandoned the city of Ramadi on Monday, leaving thousands of civilians at the Islamic State’s mercy. The defeat is widely regarded as a big failure for the US-backed coalition, and many people are wondering whether Iraq still has the power to win the war against ISIS on its own.
ISIS already had a firm foothold in the Iraqi province of Anbar, and by seizing Ramadi they have secured their control over the region. The city is located only about 110 kilometers (or 70 miles) from Baghdad, but regardless of the strategic situation, it is the fate of the thousands of civilians left behind that concerns the Iraqi government the most.
“There have been executions in the streets of Ramadi,” said Muhannad Haimour, speaking on behalf of the Anbar provincial government. “The situation in the city is absolutely terrible. The city is in very bad shape.”
ISIS have already been using explosives and suicide bombers during the fight for Ramadi, and as the coalition forces were fleeing from the battleground, the Jihadists could be seen bringing bulldozers and other vehicles to reshape the city after their own desire. Around 500 civilians have lost their lives as the Islamist militants walked in, and 8,000 others have fled Ramadi in fear of ISIS retaliation.
Government forces seem to have given up on the idea of retaking Anbar, and US military officials claim there isn’t much that can be done now. According to military analyst Col. Peter Mansoor, the loss is a huge setback for the coalition troops and could provide ISIS with enough time to recover its strength.
The Islamic State looked pretty much cornered a few weeks ago, after losing many of its strongholds at the hand of several joint operations, including government troops and Shiite militias, among others. Now, despite the fact that Iraqi sources claim ISIS has suffered great losses during the fighting, the terrorist group fully controls the Anbar province. And it is unlikely that their rule will be contested any time soon.
The situation could get even more complicated, as Iraq is trying to bring the Shiite militias under government command, a move that could spark more bloodshed, according to some analysts. Historically, putting Sunnis against Shiites never ended up well, and the already fragile coalition could implode if a peaceful agreement is not found between the parties involved.
For the time being, the Iran-backed Shiite forces seem eager to cooperate with the government if any attempt to recover Ramadi is made. Youssef al-Kilabi, a spokesman for the group, claims a counter-offensive plan has already been drawn, but it remains to be seen if they will act without any help from the Iraqi military.
Any large scale operations might involve both the Pentagon and Tehran, as Iran’s defense minister called for an emergency meeting with his Iraqi counterpart to assess the situation. The US-led coalition has already been conducting airstrikes in the area over the past 24 hours, but if the Iranians get involved, more decisive actions can probably be expected from Washington.