At least 500 civilians and security personnel killed, 8000 newly displaced
Baghdad — After a two-day battle approximately 500 people were killed and the city of Ramadi, the Anbar provincial seat, has fallen into the hands of ISIS. This occurred as a result of security forces retreating from the city amidst a near total collapse of security, paving the way for the extremist organization to control the Operations Command Headquarters and the largest Iraqi province.
Muhannad Haimour, a spokesman for the governor of the Anbar Province Suhayb al-Rawi, told the French News Agency, “The Operations Command Headquarters of Anbar has been evacuated.” A number of security sources have confirmed that the security forces have retreated from the headquarters located north of Ramadi. Responding to a question from a number of journalists, Haimour stated, “We do not yet have a precise number for the journalists, but we believe that there are at least 500 civilians and security personnel that were killed over the last two days.”
Since the beginning of 2014, a month before its crushing attacks in northern Iraq and to the west last June, ISIS has gained control of the neighborhoods in Ramadi. Last Thursday evening, ISIS launched attacks on a number of fronts in the Anbar Province. The most notable of these attacks was in Ramadi, which depended significantly upon suicide attacks. This eventually allowed them to gain control of new areas in the city, among which are the government offices. The Operations Command Headquarters, in addition to the neighboring Palace of Justice complex, was the most significant of the security centers that are still under the control of the government forces and tribal fighters who are allied with it.
Despite the large amount of control that ISIS has over the city after these security centers were evacuated, Haimour stressed that the city has not completely fallen. He stated that, “Ramadi has not fallen and there are security elements that are still fighting in some of the neighborhoods.”
In his role, Colonel Jabar al-‘Asafi of the Ramadi Police confirmed that security forces have retreated. He mentioned that “army and police security forces have completely retreated from the city of Ramadi.” He further indicated that they have “retreated in the direction of al-Nukhayb” in southern Anbar. A lieutenant colonel in the army confirmed that ISIS has taken control of the security offices in the city.
He stated, “ISIS took control of those locations after security forces retreated,” indicating that ISIS elements “after infiltrating the Anbar Operations Command Headquarters burned its fueling stations.” If ISIS is able to impose its control completely over Ramadi (100 km west of Baghdad), the city will become the second provincial seat under its control in Iraq; the city of Mosul, the Nineveh provincial seat being the first.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi, who is also the Commander of the Armed Forces and al-Hashd al-Sha’bi (i.e. Popular Mobilization Forces) are preparing and mobilizing to liberate Anbar from ISIS in response to an urgent appeal from the Anbar government and tribal leaders. This is based upon the declaration of Sheikh Wisam al-Hardan, leader of the Anbar Sahwa (i.e. Awakening), which he made in an interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat.
He stated, “Ramadi has completely fallen to ISIS.” He went on to accuse the provincial police commander and Operations commander, both of whom are from Anbar, “with complete responsibility for the fall of Ramadi.” Al-Hardan added that, “the police commander left his post on Friday evening, meanwhile, the operations commander did not perform the duty with which he had been entrusted. This means that there is some kind of collusion or perhaps a plan to sell out Ramadi, similar to what happened in Mosul.”
He went on to point out that “there is clear evidence that treason played a part in what happened to the city. Military reinforcements had arrived in the city, which mollified the government and encouraged them to continue fighting. Therefore, the city should not have fallen so easily.”
Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi’s media office issued a statement that confirmed that the “Prime Minister directed the Armed Forces and the al-Hashd al-Sha’bi to prepare and mobilize in order to liberate the Anbar Province from ISIS.” The statement added that “this directive came in response to pleas from the governor of Anbar, its council and tribal leaders.”
Sheikh Rafi’a ‘Abd-al-Karim al-Fahdawi, Albu-Fahd tribal leader in Anbar confirmed in an interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat that the reports were correct about the fall of Ramadi. He stated that, “the center of Ramadi has fallen into the hands of ISIS, but things are different in the outskirts of town where we are still in control. This is especially true of the Albu-Fahd tribe, which continues to fight beginning from the al-Sajariyah area to the al-Habaniyah base.” Al-Fahdawi added, “The central government bears most of the responsibility of what is happening because of its negligence in arming and training the tribes. The tribes are the ones who know how best to fight ISIS, but have been left to fend for themselves. We have been asking for the weapons and equipment that we need for a long time, but it has been to no avail.”
Running parallel to these developments in the field is the worsening crisis of those who have been displaced. According to the Deputy Council President of Anbar, upwards of 5000 people have been displaced from the city of Ramadi since ISIS attacked last Friday morning. They are waiting at the Buzaybz Bridge on the Euphrates River (27 km west of Baghdad) for permission to go to the capital. A displaced man named Mushtaq Talib stated to al-Sharq al-Awsat, “We have slept on the ground for two days, the trees our only protection from the sun near the Buzaybz Bridge waiting upon a decision to allow us to enter after security forces prevented us from entering.”
A displaced woman named Suha Kamal stated, “We fled after my brother and his wife and daughter were killed by armed criminals. I am here with my husband and four children and have been suffering for two days living out in the open without assistance from the government, which has prevented us from entering the capital. They are acting as though we don’t come from the same country. They are to blame for our suffering. Now they have left us exposed to the possibility of being killed or living in the open without food, water and medicine.”
Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported yesterday that the fighting in Ramadi had led to the displacement of at least 8000 people. The IOM stated, “An estimated 1300 families (nearly 7,776 people) have been displaced, and the numbers are increasing.” The French News Agency quoted the IOM saying that these numbers were recorded over a period of two days.
According to the IOM, the number of displaced persons inside Iraq since the beginning of 2014 exceeds 2.8 million people, which is when ISIS launched its large scale attack to control areas in the north and west in June of that year.
Translated by Donald Puhlman.