Source: The New York Times
BAGHDAD — Breaking a seven-month occupation by the Islamic State, Iraqi troops on Monday retook most of Ramadi, the most populous city in western Iraq, overrunning a government compound held by the terrorist group at the city center and dealing a setback to its deadly grip on large parts of the country.
Iraqi soldiers continued to face stiff resistance by Islamic State fighters in several pockets, and their hold on Ramadi — achieved after a week of fierce fighting with help from American jets that pounded enemy positions — remained tenuous. In Washington, Pentagon officials warned that it would be premature to declare outright victory.
But if the government manages to hold Ramadi, it could prove pivotal to the efforts to beat back the Islamic State in Iraq and, ultimately, to reverse the group’s gains in Syria as well. The Obama administration is hoping that a victory in Ramadi could also help vindicate its strategy of relying largely on air power to aid Iraqi and other partners fighting on the ground.
The Ramadi campaign is the latest in a string of defeats for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and its Arabic acronym, Daesh. The group has lost as much as 40 percent of the Iraqi territory it conquered last year.
Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, who announced the city’s“liberation” on Twitter on Monday night, has vowed to now focus on recapturing Mosul, a larger city in the north that the Islamic State seized in 2014.
The battle for Ramadi, which had proceeded in fits and starts since the summer, was waged partly by Sunni tribesmen whom American troops had trained to fight alongside the forces of the Shiite-dominated government. If it continues, such cooperation — a delicate alliance, given Iraq’s long history of sectarian violence — could help corrode the Islamic State’s claim to represent all of Sunni Islam.
In a televised speech on Monday night, Mr. Abadi extolled what he described as the cooperative effort of “different affiliations and religions and sects” among Iraqis in routing Islamic State fighters from Ramadi. “The year 2016 will be, God willing, the year of ending the presence of Daesh from the Iraq lands,” he said.