IS tightens grip on Ramadi

Iraqi soldiers and Shiite fighters from the popular committees hold a post as they fire towards Islamic State (IS) group positions in the Garma district of Anbar province west of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on Tuesday.

Iraqi soldiers and Shiite fighters from the popular committees hold a post as they fire towards Islamic State (IS) group positions in the Garma district of Anbar province west of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on Tuesday.

Islamic State militants who overran Ramadi in a major defeat for the Iraqi government and its Western backers tightened their grip on the city, flying back flags on key buildings and setting free prisoners in a drive to win the support of local residents.

After Ramadi fell on Sunday, Shiite militiamen in armored vehicles deployed to a nearby base in preparation for a counterattack to retake the city, which lies just 110 km northwest of Baghdad.

Witnesses in Ramadi said Islamic State had set up defensive positions and laid land mines.

They were also going from house to house in search of members of the police and armed forces and said they would set up courts based on Shariah law.

They released about 100 prisoners from the counter-terrorism detention center in the city.

Saed Hammad Al-Dulaimi, 37, a schoolteacher who is still in the city, said: “Islamic State used loudspeakers urging people who have relatives in prison to gather at the main mosque in the city center to pick them up. I saw men rushing to the mosque to receive their prisoners.”

The move could prove popular with residents who have complained that people are often subject to arbitrary detention.

Sami Abed Saheb, 37, a Ramadi restaurant owner, said Islamic State found 30 women and 71 men in the detention center. They had been shot in the feet to prevent them escaping when their captors fled.

Witnesses said the black flag of Islamic State was now flying over the main mosque, government offices and other prominent buildings in Ramadi.

Jasim Mohammed, 49, who owns a women’s clothing shop, said an Islamic State member had told him he must now sell only traditional Islamic garments.

“I had to remove the mannequins and replace them with other means of displaying the clothes. He told me that I shouldn’t sell underwear because it’s forbidden,” he said.

Islamic State had also promised that food, medicine and doctors would soon be available.

Dulaimi saw Islamic State fighters using cranes to lift blast walls from the streets and bulldozers to shovel away sand barriers built by security forces before they fled.

“I think they (Islamic State) are trying to win the sympathy of people in Ramadi and give them moments of peace and freedom.

“But we are sure that this is only temporary and won’t last for long because the worst is yet to come and we will end up trapped in the cross fire when government and Hashid forces start their attack to recapture Ramadi,” he said.

As Iraq’s Shiite militias gather on the outskirts of Ramadi in preparation for battle, a key Sunni tribal leader and opponent of Islamic State is warning against the militias’ participation.

Sheikh Abdulrazzaq Al-Dulaym said of the groups: “We warned of the popular organization entering Anbar and specifically Ramadi. If they enter now, it will cause a civil war.” Speaking Monday at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the sheikh said it was for Sunni Arabs in Iraq to take back Ramadi and not for the militias supported by Iran.

Abdulrazzaq is important for Washington. His father was the chief of the Dulaym tribe, the largest tribe that populates the territory seized by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The last time the US defeated radicals like the Islamic State, the sheikh’s assistance was valuable.

This week Abdulrazzaq is in Washington asking the Obama administration to train and equip Sunni tribal fighters much the way the US military did after 2007 during the counterinsurgency strategy known as the surge, when the sheikh was an adviser to the US military. But while the US has said it is beginning to train and equip these tribal groups, the sheikh said so far these efforts haven’t amounted to much.

“We have not seen anyone training the Sunnis,” he said. “There are some advisers there, yes, but this effort is not up to the standard.” Pointing out that the Islamic State just took over Ramadi, he warned, “We don’t know what they will take over next.”


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