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ISIS Claims Major Counterattacks as Iraqi Forces Lay Siege to Ramadi
The Islamic State broke an uncharacteristic silence on Thursday about the Iraqi military's three-day-old assault to recapture the city of Ramadi, releasing a flurry of statements asserting that its fighters had killed dozens of Iraqi government forces in attacks in the city and on its outskirts.
In one Islamic State dispatch released via social media, marked "urgent," the group said a five-member suicide squad had ambushed police officers at an outpost it identified as the headquarters of the Second Regiment of the Federal Police.
Other statements by the group claimed to have killed more than 30 Iraqi soldiers, with suicide bombs and by detonating hidden explosives inside buildings, according to translations of the statements by the SITE Intelligence Group, a research firm in Bethesda, Md., that monitors jihadist postings on the Internet.
Taken together, the statements were the first assertion by the militant group that it had inflicted serious damage against Iraqi military forces engaged in the Ramadi siege.
Those forces began a concerted effort on Tuesday to recapture Ramadi, an important city about 60 miles from Baghdad that Islamic State fighters overran in May in a major humiliation for the central government.
The Islamic State's usual communications avenues had been conspicuously quiet in recent days, other than one site's release of photographs claiming to show that areas of Ramadi were calm and still under the Islamic State's control.
The Islamic State's loss of Ramadi would be the most significant in a string of recent defeats for the extremist group, which has occupied swathes of Iraq and Syria since last year. Ramadi is the capital of Anbar Province, a predominantly Sunni Arab region that has been a stronghold for the Islamic State.
Iraqi officials have conceded that their advance in Ramadi has been hampered by hidden explosives and Islamic State counterattacks, but they denied they had suffered any major casualties on Thursday.
Ismael al-Mihlawi, the commander of the Anbar government operations room, said that although the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, had left land mines and booby-traps, "We are moving in the right path, according to our plan.
"Ramadi will be liberated soon," he said. "ISIS is dying."
Gassan al-Ethawi, a spokesman for tribal fighters in Anbar Province who are working with the government forces, said the Islamic State had mounted an assault on the police station overnight, first firing mortars and then sending six suicide attackers. But he said Iraqi forces had "blocked" the attack. Officials said that four police officers had been injured.
Islamic State statements also claimed its fighters had killed members of Iraq's Shiite militias fighting in Ramadi, using derogatory terms for Shiite Muslims. But Iraqi officials say the assault on the city does not include the militias, and is being carried out by soldiers, police officers and Sunni tribesmen.
The makeup of the force is intentional. By excluding the Shiite militias, which operate under the name of the popular mobilization forces, the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is hoping to guard against the kind of sectarian retribution that has marred other operations against the Islamic State in Sunni areas.
In a statement on Thursday, Dhafir al-Aani, a Sunni member of Parliament, praised the decision to exclude the Shiite militias, saying it had made the battle for Ramadi "empty of sectarian complications."
The statement referred to retaliatory attacks by the militias against Sunnis in other parts of the country, calling them "problems that ruined the taste of victory."
[Source: By Omar Al-Jawoshy and Rick Gladstone, The New York Times, 24Dec15]
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