Sunday, 17 May 2015

Iraqi forces retreat from Ramadi as Islamic State advances

Media captionThe BBC's Ahmed Maher reports that some Iraqi troops have "deserted their positions" in Ramadi
Most Iraqi troops have abandoned their positions in Ramadi as Islamic State militants have advanced further into the city, officials have told the BBC.
They said IS militants had taken control of a compound that was used as the provincial military command centre.
The prime minister called on troops not to desert their positions, while telling Shia militias to prepare to deploy to the heavily Sunni area.
IS claimed to hold the entire city in a message posted online.
The message, which has not been independently verified, said militants had captured the 8th Brigade army base as well as tanks and missile launchers.
Ramadi is the capital of Iraq's largest province, Anbar, and is just 70 miles (112km) west of Baghdad.
An army officer told the BBC that most troops had retreated to a military base in the city of Khalidiya, east of Ramadi.
Government troops were running out of ammunition and could not repel the massive onslaughts by IS, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He said some troops were still trapped in the military command centre, where they were engaged in heavy fighting with militants.
Muhannad Haimour, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told AFP: "Ramadi has not fallen - there are still people fighting in some neighbourhoods."
Iraqis displaced by fighting in Ramadi, 16 May 2015
Fighting in Ramadi has forced thousands to flee
In comments broadcast on state TV, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Shia militias to prepare to join the fight in the Sunni-majority region.
The militias played a key role in the government's recent recapture of the city of Tikrit from IS, but pulled out of the city following reports of widespread violence and looting.
The loss of Ramadi would represent a very serious setback for the government, and Iraqi officials are alarmed, the BBC's Ahmed Maher reports from Baghdad.
Anbar province covers a vast stretch of the country west from the capital Baghdad to the Syrian border, and contains key roads that link Iraq to both Syria and Jordan.
IS reportedly controls more than half of Anbar's territory.
On Friday, IS took a government compound in Ramadi, raising its black flags, before retreating a day later.
The deputy head of Anbar council, Faleh al-Issawi, told the BBC that more than 500 people had been killed in the last two days of fighting in and around Ramadi, including policemen who were trapped after running out of ammunition, and civilians caught in the crossfire.
Some 8,000 people have been displaced over the same period, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Troubled history of Anbar province

US clear abandoned houses of insurgent fighters in Falluja, Iraq on 10 November 2004
US troops occupied Anbar for eight years, suffering heavy losses in the process
  • Iraq's largest province and its only Sunni-dominated one was occupied by US forces in 2003
  • Hostile to the US, fighting quickly broke out between US troops and the region's Sunni insurgents
  • The worst battle came in 2004, when thousands died as US troops and coalition forces struggled to take the town of Falluja
  • Fighting continued in 2005 and 2006 during which time al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) rose to prominence
  • The US declared victory in 2007 but AQI remained, resuming attacks in 2011 when US troops withdrew
  • Islamic State and other Sunni insurgents currently control much of the province

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