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Iraqi forces, allied militias prepare for major offensive to retake Ramadi from IS

Iraqi security forces and allied Shiite and Sunni militias on Monday are building up at a military base in Iraq's western province of Anbar, preparing for a major counter-offensive to recapture the provincial capital city of Ramadi that fell in the hands of the Islamic State (IS) militants after deadly battles in the past few days, a provincial security source said.

Army reinforcement forces, brigades of federal police and mainly Shiite militias, known as Hashd Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization, moved from the capital of Baghdad and other Iraqi provinces to converge at the nearby huge military airbase of Habbaniyah, some 80 km west of Baghdad, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Columns of armored vehicles and tanks were seen earlier in the day heading to Habbaniyah base, while some of the Shiite militia leaders, including the supervisor of the Hashd Shaabi Hadi al-Ameri, have been arriving to the base since late Sunday with long line of trucks carrying heavy machine guns and rockets, rising different flags of their militias along with the Iraqi flag, the source said.

More brigades from the Shiite militias moved toward the IS-held town of Garma, just east of Fallujah, which located some 50 km west of Baghdad, and took their positions near the town, preparing for a fierce battle to free the month-long seized town, the source added.

On the other hand, the IS militants, who took control of Ramadi late Sunday after a chaotic retreat of the security forces, continued their advance on Monday toward the east and captured Husaiba area near the town of Khaldiyah, just near Habbaniyah airbase, the source said.

Khaldiyah is the redoubt of the government-backed Sunni tribe of Albu Fahad, which mobilized some 4,000 of its tribesmen to defend their town against a possible attack by the IS extremist militants, he said.

Late Sunday, the IS militants took full control of Ramadi after the Iraqi security forces withdrew from their positions in the headquarters of the army's 8th Brigade and the provincial operations command.

According to media reports, initial estimates said up to 500 people, including civilians, were killed, since the beginning of the battles in Ramadi late Thursday and some 8,000 people were displaced from their homes in the city.

The IS militants launched a series of attacks in Ramadi since Thursday night and managed to seize the district of Jamiyah and Albu Alwan in the city. On Friday, the militants expanded in the city and took control of the government compound in central Ramadi.

The militants, on Saturday, continued their push in the city and carried out several attacks, including suicide car bombings, despite the arrival of three brigades to the battleground in Ramadi to support the security forces and allied militias.

The Iraqi aircraft have provided air support for the security forces fighting in Ramadi and the U.S.-led coalition warplanes which carried out several airstrikes against IS positions in and out of Ramadi, the source said.

The fall of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's largest province, was seen as a setback to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's efforts to defeat the IS group by recruiting local Sunni tribes to fight for their cities and town instead of the Shiite militias of the Hashd Shaabi in order to avoid sectarian tensions in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province.

However, the rapid retreat of the security forces and allied Sunni militias pushed Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of Iraqi armed forces, to order the mainly Shiite militias of Hashd Shaabi to prepare to participate in battles against IS militants in Anbar, ignoring U.S. concerns that the presence of Shiite militias could spark sectarian strife.

Meanwhile, Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan arrived here on a visit expected to cover security cooperation, according to the state-run Iraqiya official television.

Dehqan is scheduled to meet with Iraqi officials, including top military commanders, to discuss bilateral cooperation and the current security situation in Iraq, as the IS militants seized Ramadi and the Iraqi Shiite militias are preparing to launch a major offensive to defeat the extremist militants.

The IS group has seized most of Anbar province and tried to advance toward Baghdad during the past few months, but several counter attacks by security forces and Shiite militias have pushed them back.

The security situation in Iraq has drastically deteriorated since last June, when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and IS militants.

[Source: Xinhua, Ramadi, 18May15]

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small logoThis document has been published on 19May15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.