Advances in Ramadi vindicate strategy but come at a crushing cost

BAGHDAD - The advance of Iraqi forces into the heart of Ramadi, a restive city that fell to the Islamic State group earlier this year, in some ways vindicated the U.S.

See Full Article

-led coalition's strategy for rolling back the extremists -- but victory has come at a high cost, and the same tactics might not work elsewhere.

The battle for Ramadi was waged by the Iraqi military -- rather than Shiite or Kurdish militias -- with elite counterterrorism units advancing under the cover of coalition airstrikes and raising the Iraqi national flag over the main government complex in the provincial capital on Monday.

Pockets of resistance remain, but the majority of Ramadi is under government control for the first time since May, when IS militants punched their way into the city with a series of massive suicide car bombs, scattering and humiliating Iraq's beleaguered security forces.

Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Belawi said "heavy and concentrated airstrikes" by the U.S.-led coalition killed IS fighters, destroyed their vehicles and blew up suicide car bombs before they could be deployed, allowing his forces to advance into the city.

"I think this fight shows the Iraqis are ready to fight and these calls for U.S. ground troops are not the best strategy moving forward," said Ahmed Ali, a senior fellow at the Institute of Regional and International Studies at the American University of Iraq.

"What we saw in terms of the combination of airstrikes and intelligence support and then forces on the ground, it has worked very, very well," he said.

Over the past six months, the coalition has launched more than 600 airstrikes, hitting about 2,500 different targets, U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the coalition, told reporters on Tuesday. He said at its peak there were up to 1,000 IS fighters in Ramadi, and that only 150-250 remain.

But while the airstrikes eventually helped flush out the militants, they smashed large parts of the city into rubble.

The city has suffered "huge devastation," Al-Belawi said. He estimates that more than half of the city's buildings have been destroyed, including government offices, markets and houses. Most residents fled earlier this year, and it could be months or longer before they are able to return.

Even before IS rolled in, Ramadi bore scars from the eight-year U.S. intervention in Iraq. U.S. troops fought their bloodiest battles in Ramadi and nearby Fallujah, which was the first Iraqi city to fall to IS and remains under its control.

When IS captured Ramadi earlier this year, the militants blew up the homes of members of the security forces, but even those demolitions did not compare with the destruction wrought by the U.S.-led warplanes, according to al-Belawi.

The recapture of Ramadi has nevertheless lifted the morale of Iraq's troops. State TV has repeatedly shown footage of soldiers waving Iraqi flags and brandishing machine-guns, chanting and dancing inside the government complex in central Ramadi. Some can be seen slaughtering sheep in celebration near heavily damaged buildings.

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who toured parts of Ramadi on Tuesday, had earlier hailed the advance, vowing that 2016 would be "the year of the final victory," when IS would be driven from Iraq.

But the high cost of liberating Ramadi raises questions about whether the same tactics can be brought to bear in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, which remains under IS control, or other dense urban areas in Iraq and Syria, where IS militants live among civilians.

"This approach has a very high cost in material damage and human casualties," said Lina Khatib, a senior research associate at the Arab Reform Initiative, a Paris-based think-tank.

"To use the same approach everywhere in the region... the scale of damage would be immense," she said.

There is also the question of what do with Sunni areas like Ramadi once the militants are driven out. Distrust of the Shiite-led government runs deep in the sprawling Anbar province, which is overwhelmingly Sunni. Many residents initially welcomed IS as liberators.

U.S. troops were able to pacify Anbar and other Sunni areas starting in 2006 with the help of the Sahwa, or "awakening" movement -- Sunni tribes and militias who allied with the Americans against al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the IS group. But the Sahwas later fell out with the central government, which contributed to the IS group's resurgence.

Al-Belawi insisted that the Sunni fighters had returned and allied with his forces, helping them to advance.

"Most of these fighters fought al Qaeda in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, they know their areas very well and the whereabouts of the local Daesh fighters and their movements," he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

But Warren, the coalition spokesman, said Sunni fighters "were not a significant player" in the assault on Ramadi, but were mainly holding ground already cleared by the army.

IS militants still control an estimated 30 per cent of the city, according to Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar province. IS launched a number of small-scale attacks Tuesday.

The IS group's territory in Iraq makes up only about half of its self-declared caliphate. Even if Iraq drives the extremists out, they would retain their grip on large parts of Syria, where an increasingly complex civil war has sucked in regional powers and left the U.S. with few reliable allies.

"I expect that IS will continue to be weakened in Iraq," Khatib said. "But this does not mean IS is weakened in general because it can still have a significant presence in Syria."

-----

George reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Lightning sparks fires across southeastern B.C.

    Canada News CTV News
    CASTLEGAR, B.C. -- Lightning storms across southeastern British Columbia have sparked numerous wildfires. BC Wildfire Service personnel are at two separate fires burning just a few kilometres on either side of the village of Nakusp. Source
  • Scientists may have discovered a mysterious Mars-sized planet

    World News Toronto Sun
    A mysterious celestial body may be lurking in the frozen, far-flung reaches of the solar system, scientists say. This is not the proposed "Planet Nine," a ginormous body that Caltech scientists believe could be tugging at the orbits of the solar system's most distant inhabitants. Source
  • 3 Chicago police officers indicted in Laquan McDonald case

    World News CTV News
    CHICAGO -- Three Chicago police officers were indicted Tuesday on felony charges that they conspired to cover up the actions of a white police officer who shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, saying the officers lied when they alleged the teenager "aggressively" swung a knife at officers and attempted to get up from the ground still armed with the knife after he was shot. Source
  • U.S. woman jailed for giving woman in labour heroin

    World News CTV News
    FILE - This booking photo released Wednesday, March 8, 2017, by the Concord, N.H., Police Department shows Felicia Farruggia, arrested about six months after she had demanded to be injected with heroin and methamphetamine while in labor with her son in September 2016. Source
  • New cyberattack causes mass disruption in Europe, slowly moves into U.S. [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    PARIS — A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard. Company and government officials reported serious intrusions at the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices, where one senior official posted a photo of a darkened computer screen and the words, “the whole network is down. Source
  • Ontario spending $85M to clean up mercury in First Nations

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO - Ontario is spending an additional $85 million to clean up a mercury-contaminated river that has plagued two First Nation communities for half a century. Environment Minister Glen Murray says the funds for the remediation of the English-Wabigoon River system in northwestern Ontario will be used to design and implement the cleanup, and for long-term monitoring. Source
  • 'Did he find it in a Cracker Jack (box), or what?'; Trudeau blasted for suggesting Harper left him with $18B deficit

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted Tuesday that his Liberal government has been keeping its promise to be fiscally responsible and blamed the previous Conservative administration for being at least partly responsible for higher-than-expected deficits. But at least one Tory MP says the PM's math is "all wrong. Source
  • Manhunt in Manitoba for man who fled traffic stop, believed to have gun

    Canada News CTV News
    PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. -- Police in central Manitoba are on the lookout for a suspect who fled a traffic stop and they believe may be armed with a rifle. Schools in Portage la Prairie have been locked down and residents have been told to stay indoors while officers hunt for the person. Source
  • Dad collapses after border-guard daughter gets 11 years for letting 182 kg of cocaine into country

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    MONTREAL — Border guard Stefanie McClelland has received an 11-year sentence for letting 182 kilograms of cocaine across the Champlain—St-Bernard-de-Lacolle border. The father of the 40-year-old Canada Border Services Agency officer collapsed in the courtroom at the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu courthouse after Superior Court Justice Andre Vincent read his decision on Tuesday. Source
  • GOP delays vote on Senate version of health-care bill [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    WASHINGTON — In a bruising setback, U.S. Senate Republican leaders shelved a vote on their prized health-care bill Tuesday until at least next month, forced to retreat by a GOP rebellion that left them lacking enough votes to even begin debate. Source