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

  • Explainer: What's going on in Syria's rebellious suburb Ghouta?

    World News CTV News
    BEIRUT -- The airstrikes came at a rate of one a minute, with horrible results: civilians fleeing collapsing buildings, children trapped under slabs of concrete, paramedics grimly rushing the bloodied victims away on stretchers. At least 100 people were killed in one day. Source
  • Federal budget looks ready to help protect more lands, inland waters, oceans

    Canada News CBC News
    The federal government appears poised to earmark funds in next week's budget aimed at meeting United Nations' targets on protecting more of Canada's lands, inland waters and oceans. Groups pushing Canada to fulfil its international vows to protect more of its ecosystems by 2020 say their interactions with government officials suggest that this will be the year Ottawa makes a big investment in protected areas. Source
  • B.C. lawsuit seeks damages after women secretly recorded in a work bathroom

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- The former operator of a wedding decor supply business in British Columbia is facing more legal action following his conviction for secretly recording two workers while they used the employee washroom. Andy Anthony Raddysh is named in two civil lawsuits filed by the Workers Compensation Board of B.C. Source
  • Kidney Foundation gets dozens of calls after family takes out 27 billboards seeking organ donor

    Canada News CBC News
    The head of the Kidney Foundation in Calgary says the family that put up billboards seeking donors is helping everyone waiting for transplant. "It always brings more living donors into the system, not just for the person who's put the word out, but there will be others that will benefit from these stories, for sure," said Joyce Van Deurzen, executive director of the Kidney Foundation of Canada in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Source
  • Environmentalists in court seeking details on Keystone XL approval

    Canada News CTV News
    BILLINGS, Mont. -- Opponents of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada are asking a judge to force the U.S. government to turn over emails and other documents related to President Donald Trump's approval of the project. Source
  • Alberta shrugs off B.C. legal challenge on wine ban

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON -- Alberta's economic development minister is shrugging off a legal challenge filed by British Columbia over Alberta's ban on B.C. wine. Deron Bilous says the potential fine Alberta faces for violating free trade rules is a pittance when set against the stakes of the Trans Mountain pipeline issue. Source
  • Quebec judge should be removed from bench after cocaine use inquiry, watchdog says

    Canada News CBC News
    A judicial watchdog says a Quebec Superior court judge accused of buying cocaine should be tossed from bench for misleading an inquiry into his conduct. In a report issued to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould today, a majority of the 23-member Canadian Judicial Council found Michel Girouard guilty of misconduct for misleading an inquiry into the suspected transaction. Source
  • 'I do not want your guns': Florida teacher rejects call to arm up after shooting

    World News CTV News
    A woman who teaches Grade 8 students near the school where 17 were shot dead in Parkland, Fla., says it’s not her job to carry a gun in case of an active shooter situation. Circe Burnett, who works at Logger’s Run Community Elementary School, says there’s simply no way she or any other teacher can be properly trained for an event like the one that happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. Source
  • Edmonton man accused of online threats against PM, government

    Canada News CTV News
    Police have charged an Edmonton man who they allege used social media posts to threaten the Canadian government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Alberta RCMP say that the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (K-INSET) identified the social media account in question and the suspect was taken into custody last Thursday. Source
  • Judge rules 'vulgar' slur against reporter was not a public disturbance

    Canada News CTV News
    ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- A judge has ruled a notorious sexist slur aimed at a reporter in St. John's, N.L., was vulgar and offensive but wasn't a crime under the circumstances. Provincial court Judge Colin Flynn dismissed the single charge against 28-year-old Justin Penton of causing a public disturbance. Source