Iraq’s prime minister has urged members of the country’s Shia militia-dominated popular mobilisation forces to join the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, know as Isis, after the Sunni-dominated Anbar province capital of Ramadi fell to the jihadis after days of fighting.
State television reported that Haidar al-Abadi’s request followed demands by Sunni Arab tribal and political leaders in Anbar, where Isis claimed that it now controlled a city once a bastion of pro-government forces.
He “requested that the (volunteer forces) get ready for deployment alongside the armed forces and tribal volunteers to liberate Al-Anbar province from Islamic State”, read a caption.
“The directives . . . are in response to a plea by the provincial governor, council, tribal chiefs and clerics in the province.”
In statements posted to jihadi websites, Isis claimed that it had taken Ramadi. But Iraqi officials made statements countering this, claiming that Isis had begun to withdraw from key points of Ramadi.
Local and international media, however, reported a multi-pronged car bomb assault by Isis on the city’s administrative centre that caused government forces to flee their positions.
The fall of Ramadi would be a devastating blow to Iraqi forces loyal to Mr Abadi’s government and the US-led coalition providing Baghdad with air strikes and training.
US and Iraqi officials had announced several air strikes on Isis positions in Anbar province over the past day in an attempt to roll back Isis gains.
US-led forces said they had struck five small Isis tactical positions, a bomb-making plant and other facilities and weapons in seven air strikes in or near Ramadi over the 24 hours up to Sunday morning.
But Iraqi ground forces, including members of the uniformed armed forces and Sunni tribal militias, have been unable to take advantage amid the Isis onslaught, which follow the group’s losses in Salahhadin province and its capital Tikrit. Iraq’s Shia militias played a key role in the liberation of Tikrit from Isis but needed US-led air power to recapture the city.
Hadi Ameri, leader of one of the most powerful Shia militias, has offered the services of his forces in defending and retaking Anbar province from Isis.
But the Abadi government has declined offers of help by Shia militias in the province, citing sectarian sensitivities. Shia militias were accused of torching neighbourhoods in Tikrit after retaking the city.
The latest fighting has spurred thousands of ordinary Ramadi residents to leave their homes for the Jordanian border or the relative security of the capital, Baghdad, exacerbating the displacement crisis.
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