Sunday, December 27, 2015

Islamic State Fighters Flee Ramadi (VIDEO)

At the Wall Street Journal, "Islamic State Militants Flee Ramadi Stronghold Amid Iraqi Offensive":

BAGHDAD—Islamic State fighters fled their last bastion in the center of Ramadi Sunday night as Iraqi security forces encircled the area and prepared a final push to clear out any remaining fighters or explosives, Iraqi officials said.

State television beamed images of people celebrating in streets across the country, though the army had not yet declared Ramadi completely under its control. A number of Iraqi leaders said they were confident the city would fall within days, if not hours.

A defeat in the capital of Anbar province, which is just 60 miles from the capital Baghdad, would be Islamic State’s third major loss in as many months to Iraqi security forces and allied paramilitary groups. Those forces retook the oil refining town of Beiji in October and in November, Iraqi Kurdish forces drove the Sunni Muslim extremist group out of the strategic city of Sinjar.

A decisive victory in Sunni-majority Ramadi could strengthen national unity and soothe sectarian conflict in the Shiite-dominated country where Sunnis often complain of discrimination. It would also augur well for the coming battle to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and Islamic State’s main stronghold in Iraq.

“My eyes are filled with tears now upon hearing that security forces managed to defeat Daesh in Ramadi,” said Sheikh Ghazi al-Goud, a member of parliament from Anbar province, using another name for Islamic State. “This is a victory for all Iraqis. Iraqis proved through the Ramadi fight that they are united, Sunnis and Shiite.”

One reason for the Ramadi operation’s slow progress has been the Iraqi government’s reluctance to include Iran-backed Shiite militia groups who have so far carried most of the fight against Islamic State. Moderate Iraqi leaders and U.S. officials worried that deploying the Shiite-majority militias to Ramadi could spark further sectarian strain, or lead some Sunni civilians to fight with Islamic State.

Iraqi troops, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, have spent nearly three weeks fighting their way into Ramadi.

By late Sunday, Islamic State militants were fleeing Ramadi’s eastern suburbs along with their families and civilian hostages they had been using as human shields, a security official said.

Their departure came after Iraqi security forces encircled the city center and began pushing into a former government compound that had been the group’s last bastion in the city. Iraq’s military said they had occupied only one building in the government compound, a blood bank owned by Iraq’s ministry of health.

Iraqi troops picked their way through cratered city streets and booby-trapped buildings left behind by more than a month of almost continuous fighting, military officials said...