Islamic State militants are preparing to defend the Iraqi city of Ramadi, witnesses say, as Iranian-backed militiamen gather east of the city. Residents said IS fighters had set up defensive positions and laid landmines after capturing the city on Sunday. Militants were also going door-to-door looking for government sympathisers and throwing bodies in the Euphrates river, residents were quoted as saying. Thousands have fled the city and the UN has warned of a humanitarian crisis. It says some 25,000 people have left the city, only 105km (65 miles) west of Baghdad, in recent days, adding to a flood of people already displaced from the area. Many were sleeping in the open.
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Islamic State fighters used a sandstorm to help seize a critical military advantage in the early hours of the terrorist group’s attack on the provincial Iraqi capital of Ramadi last week, helping to set in motion an assault that forced Iraqi security forces to flee, current and former American officials said Monday.
The sandstorm delayed American warplanes and kept them from launching airstrikes to help the Iraqi forces, as the Islamic State fighters evidently anticipated. The fighters used the time to carry out a series of car bombings followed by a wave of ground attacks in and around the city that eventually overwhelmed the American-backed Iraqi forces.
Once the storm subsided, Islamic State and Iraqi forces were intermingled in heavy combat in many areas, making it difficult for allied pilots to distinguish friend or foe, the officials said. By that point, the militants had gained an operational momentum that could not be reversed.
Over the weekend, as ISIS fighters rolled into Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, one of them posted a video to the Internet. It was shot from a recently captured Iraqi police station, and showed box after box of American mortar shells and bullets that appeared shiny and new. Several Humvees, apparently not long out the packing crates, sat abandoned nearby. “This is how we get our weapons,” the narrator said in Arabic. “The Iraqi officials beg the Americans for weapons, and then they leave them here for us.”
Depressing, isn’t it? The fall of Ramadi is not just a bleak symbolic defeat for the Iraqi government and its allies, including the United States. During the nearly nine years that American troops fought in Iraq, Anbar Province was one of the most lethal places for American soldiers and Marines; some thirteen hundred died there. In 2008, though, when the Americans finally handed the city back to the Iraqi Army, many of the American Marines present at the ceremony there were not even carrying weapons. After so much bloodshed, Ramadi had become one of the safest cities in the country.
The struggle between Iraqi government forces and Shia militia against Islamic State (IS) for control of the country's largest oil refinery, Baiji, is at yet another critical moment. Although it has changed hands several times in recent months, the current offensive by IS threatens once again to displace Iraqi troops and their allies.
The importance of retaking the nearby IS-held town of Baiji and relieving the refinery was stressed last month by the United States' most senior military officer, Gen Martin Dempsey, who said doing so would deprive IS of a major source of revenue. Its capture is also seen as crucial for plans to attack IS in Mosul, owing to its position on the main road north to the city from Baghdad.
As Iraq's government attempts to reclaim territory seized by the extremist group Islamic State, it has accepted military aid from two rival powers, the United States and Iran. It is a difficult balancing act.
U.S. officials were troubled by the role of prominent Iranian advisors such as Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who was photographed supposedly drinking tea outside Tikrit at the start of the recent offensive on the hometown of the late Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. Suleimani, who commands the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, was accused by the U.S. of directing attacks on its forces in Iraq a decade ago.
U.S. officials have also raised concern about Shiite Muslim militiamen, some of them backed by Iran, who made up the bulk of the fighting force in Tikrit and are expected to take a prominent role in an attempt to drive Islamic State from the city of Mosul.
Iraq’s Shiite-led government has begun training Sunni tribal fighters here in the western province of Anbar, in an urgent U.S.-backed initiative to stem recent advances by Islamic State. The setbacks in Anbar have exposed the need for trusted and equipped Sunni fighters to help turn momentum against Islamic State and dry up the extremists’ pool of potential recruits.
“When the government fails, people turn to Islamic State,” said Mohammad Abu Risha, a young tribal sheik from Anbar who commands 150 fighters. “The tribes don’t trust the government, and the government doesn’t trust the tribes.”
Caveat emptor! The big Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) summer pow-wow is only 24 days away now and ceteris paribus we should see a continuation of the status quo. Right that's enough Latin, the only languages that really count at the meeting will be Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish and money, namely petrodollars.
As far as I can see, this one is about how Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq solve a growing problem of how you cap OPEC production – and thereby falling prices - at a time when Baghdad and Tehran are desperate to up output
As in so many urban centers across the Middle East, the marketplace here on a Friday—before the mosques’ calls to prayer—is a whirlwind of bright colors and noisy, animated bargaining. It’s a festival for the senses. On the fringe of the town square, opposite the antediluvian citadel, stands the Bazaar Nishtiman, a vast mall that hosts a plethora of cheap-denim stores on its lower levels and 150 Christian refugee families in the upper levels.
The mall’s owner, a Christian, has given permission for the refugees to use the converted stalls for as long as they need shelter. Last June, thousands of Christian refugees fled to Iraqi Kurdistan from Mosul, Qaraqosh and other villages on the Nineveh Plain following the advance of Islamic State. Conversations with some of these displaced Christians reveal a common, striking theme. It quickly becomes clear that the greatest threat to the future of Christianity in Iraq is no longer the Islamic State assault but the evaporation of hope.
Last summer, in the days after the group now known as ISIS began its assault across Iraq, many feared that Baghdad could soon fall. Car bombs regularly killed dozens inside the capital. Police and soldiers manned checkpoints across the city. They were Baghdad’s defense and symbols of the state’s power in the face of onslaught. To protect the capital, these cops and soldiers were armed with magic wands. They still are now, nearly a year later.
Across Iraq, members of the security forces carry these magic wands—Rube Goldberg gadgets supposedly designed to detect explosives. The walkie talkie-sized instruments, as ubiquitous in Baghdad as radios are on cops in the United States, are useless pieces of plastic and a required piece of equipment. They were purchased by the Iraqi government for millions of dollars and are still in use to this day, waved around cars like divining rods, two years after a British con man was sentenced to prison for selling them.
The second-in-command of Islamic State (IS) has been killed in a US-led coalition air strike in northern Iraq, the Iraqi ministry of defence says. Abdul Rahman Mustafa Mohammed, also known as Abu Alaa al-Afri, was inside a mosque in Tal Afar that was targeted, spokesman Brig-Gen Tahsin Ibrahim said. There was no immediate confirmation from the US military or on IS media.
In recent weeks, there were unconfirmed reports that Afri had taken temporary charge of IS operations.
Iraqi security sources claimed that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been incapacitated as a result of a coalition air strike in northern Iraq in March.