The Iraqi government and its prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, have announced that its troops, backed by US air strikes, have driven Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) out of Ramadi, the capital of the country’s western province of Anbar.
Abadi’s boasting on Twitter of the “liberation” of Ramadi, combined with celebrations on state media, follows months of intense bombardment by US war planes and weeks of street-to-street fighting by US armed and trained Iraqi special forces units.
US military spokesman Colonel Steven Warren revealed in a press statement that at least 630 air strikes had been launched against ISIS targets in Ramadi since July. More than 30 were carried out in the past week to support Iraqi troops as they pushed toward the main government complex in the city centre.
No official estimates have been released of either government or ISIS casualties, or the death toll among the Ramadi residents who had not fled. As few as 400 ISIS fighters were estimated to be defending the city, seeking to prevent the government advance with little more than explosives and sniper fire. Reuters was told that 93 government troops were admitted to Baghdad hospitals on Sunday alone.
The city itself is in ruin. Even the sanitised media footage shows utter devastation to blocks of residential housing. A spokesman for the government-endorsed Anbar provincial council, Eid al-Karboly, told the Washington Post: “All the infrastructure of the city has been destroyed. It will take years to return life to the city.” Karboly estimated that 80 percent of all homes are damaged to some degree.
Many of the buildings that have been destroyed in the current efforts to retake Ramadi were only rebuilt in the last seven years, after being reduced to rubble during the US occupation of Iraq.
Anbar province was one of the centres of resistance to the US invasion. Both Ramadi and Fallujah, the other major city in the province, were bloody battlefields between American troops and Iraqi insurgents on repeated occasions between 2004 and 2007. Fighting was only brought to an end by the so-called “Awakening” policy of the US military, which effectively involved buying off the tribal leaders of many of the insurgents and placing tens of thousands of resistance fighters on the US-funded Iraqi government payroll.
The growth of support for ISIS in western Iraq stemmed in large part from the decision by the Baghdad government, which is dominated by religious-based Shiite parties, to systematically reduce support for the predominantly Sunni militias in Anbar after the US withdrawal at the end of 2011. Sunni-based political parties and Anbar tribal leaders were subsequently persecuted.
Amid hostility toward the sectarian policies of the Shiite government, areas of Fallujah and Ramadi were taken over by fighters declaring allegiance to ISIS in early 2014. At the time, the actions of the extremist Sunni movement against the…