Finally, it has happened! After days of mounting expectation, the Iraqi government forces have retaken Ramadi – the capital of western Anbar Province, a predominantly Sunni Arab city about 90km (55 miles) west of Baghdad – from Islamic State (IS) militants. Ramadi was captured by IS in May in an embarrassing defeat for the Iraqi army. The militant group seized a third of Iraq in a sweeping advance last year. It is the second major city after Tikrit to be retaken from Islamic State since then.
The offensive was led by the Iraqi army’s elite counter-terrorism force supported by air strikes launched by the US Air Force and its allies. Elsewhere, the struggle against Islamic State has been waged by Shia militias, often armed and commanded by Revolutionary Guard officers from neigbouring Iran. The operation to recapture Ramadi, which began in early November, has made slow progress, mainly because the government has chosen not to use the powerful Shia-dominated paramilitary force that helped it regain the northern city of Tikrit to avoid increasing sectarian tensions. The population (around 450 thousand) of the Sunni-dominated city would not have been happy to be overrun by Shiite-dominated Iraqi troops.
The militants have lost cities and towns such as Tikrit and Sinjar this summer. Islamic State is also on the defensive in neigbouring Syria, having lost territory to Kurdish forces in the north and east.
A study conducted by IHS Jane's, the defence consultancy, found that IS is now on the defensive having lost 14 per cent of its territory during the course of 2015.
The victory is a huge morale and strategic boost for the government accused of mismanagement and failure to represent all Iraqis in the face of defeat from terrorists, with all the support it has received from the United States.
On December 21, Iraqi Prime Minster Abadi said that he had agreed to the deployment of 200 American ground troops in Iraq to help with operations against the Islamic State. US Defense Secretary Carter had offered to deploy Apache attack helicopters to aid the Iraqi government’s effort. But Mr Abadi has not accepted the offer under pressure from Shiite groups and Iran. Despite the US assurance of continued support, many observers believe the American strategy of fighting the militants is not clear and that the coalition airstrikes are not targeted at the locations of IS forces.
Even having won, Iraq is in for hard times. It has to reconstruct infrastructure and the areas IS militants have devastated against the background of falling oil prices and 3 million people left homeless as a result of ongoing war. This effort will be essential to reinforce security in the country. Other challenges await. The ultimate aim is to clear Islamic State from Mosul, the Iraq's second largest city, and Falluja, which lies between Ramadi and Baghdad, as well as large areas of Syria – the core of the so-called caliphate. The control of major population centers in Iraq and Syria allows IS to maintain a revenue base coming from oil resources and large fertile agricultural areas, and possibly plan attacks outside its core territory. There is a fierce fight ahead.
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As the battle for Ramadi proceeded, the US Air Force was striking IS targets inside the city in order to cripple the terrorists’ ability to fight back. The Russian Aerospace Forces were standing by, ready to destroy any IS reinforcements attempting to cross in from Syria to aid their comrades-in-arms in Ramadi under siege.
The Russia-Iraq-Iran-Syria operational command center in Baghdad is making contribution in the intelligence sharing effort.
The joint effort has brought tangible results.
According to Israeli DebkaFile report, the Russia-Iraq-Iran-Syria command center in Baghdad is in communication with US military headquarters in the Iraqi capital.
The source says, «If this combination works for Ramadi, it will not doubt be transposed to the Syrian front and eventually, perhaps next summer, serve as the format for the general offensive the Americans are planning for wresting Mosul from the Islamic State».
The outlet emphasizes the role of the command center in coordination efforts between the US and Iran. «It is from the Russian war room that the top commanders of the pro-Iranian militias send their orders. The most prominent is Abu Mahadi al-Muhandis, who heads the largest Iraqi Shiite militia known as the Popular Mobilization Committee», DebkaFile points out. The outlet adds that «By Tuesday (Dec.22), US sources were admitting that pro-Iranian militias were also part of the operation».
In September, Russia and the US agreed to start sharing intelligence on Islamic State in Iraq.
The parties expanded this cooperation in mid-October.
The accords were reached amid the ballyhoo raised in Western media about the need to isolate Russia on the international scene.
The events unfolding in Iraq today provide convincing testimony to the fact that coordination of actions and cooperation of all parties involved is indispensable to ensure the success of the anti-terrorist effort. Russia enjoys a unique position which allows it to effectively act as an intermediary between different parties that cannot communicate directly. As has been mentioned above, the US exerts great influence among Sunni groups in Iraq. Iran has many followers among Iraqi Shiites. Moscow can link them all to ensure the needed interaction for the final success of military efforts. This is the time to put differences aside and concentrate on what unites those who stand up to the global terrorist threat. In particular, the Russia-US cooperation in the ongoing fight against IS should be further expanded and intensified to serve the common interest.