ISIS grabs control of key Iraqi city; US says gains temporary

16 May 2015

The US military command leading the fight against ISIS today said its strategy is working even as Islamic State fighters took control of Ramadi, capital of Iraq's largest province, in a significant blow to the US-backed military campaign to retake Iraqi territory from the Sunni extremists.

The US military, however, maintains that the militants' takeover of the key oil refinery and a government compound are only fleeting gains feeding the militants' propaganda machine.

"We believe across Iraq and Syria that Daesh is losing and remains on the defensive," said Marine Brig Gen Thomas D Weidley, chief of staff for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the name of the international campaign fighting the Islamic State.

''Daesh'' is the Arabic acronym for the group that swept into Iraq from Syria last June and quickly overran much of Iraq's north and west.

Reports quoting police sources said the militants seized the government compound in downtown Ramadi, the capital of the western Anbar province, by early afternoon on Friday.

Government forces had managed to hold on to the largely Sunni Muslim city of about 900,000 people in recent months, despite regular attacks by the Islamic State.

The militant group seized most of the rest of Anbar last summer.

''The city's fallen. They've taken it,'' Maj Omar Khamis al-Dahl, a senior police officer in Ramadi said by telephone.

The governor of Anbar province, Sohaib Alrawi, however, denied that Ramadi had fallen, saying in a tweet that the situation in the city was ''dire'' but that battles continued.

Dozens of soldiers fled the city overnight on Thursday during the initial stages of the Islamic State attack, which involved heavy artillery and multiple car bombings, said Dahl.

Over 60 police officers have been killed in the fighting, and hundreds of police and soldiers were surrounded in a military compound in the center of the city, he said.

''We have not received reinforcements from the government, and there will be a massacre of these people like there was in Speicher,'' said Dahl. He referred to a former US military base near Tikrit where an estimated 1,700 Iraqi soldiers were captured and killed en masse by the Islamic State last summer.

The attack on Ramadi comes more than a month after pro-government forces backed by US airstrikes drove Islamic State militants out of the city of Tikrit, an advance that officials in Baghdad touted as a major victory. The government has hoped to push northward to drive Islamic State forces out of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq and a stronghold of the militants since they captured it in June 2014.



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