The Islamic State group claimed on Sunday to hold the entire Iraqi city of Ramadi after security forces fled following a series of suicide car bomb attacks. Iraqi officials disagreed with each other over whether the city had fallen, though the country’s prime minister ordered security forces not to abandon their posts across Anbar province.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also ordered Shiite militias to prepare to go into the Sunni-dominated region, ignoring worries their presence could spark sectarian bloodshed apparently over fears the extremists could seize the province.
The retreat of some forces recalled the collapse of Iraqi police and military forces last summer, when the Islamic State group’s initial blitz into Iraq saw it capture about a third of the country.
Police and army officials said four nearly simultaneous bombings targeted police officers defending the Malaab district in southern Ramadi, killing 10 and wounding 15. Among the dead was Col. Muthana al-Jabri, the chief of the Malaab police station, they said.
Later on, police said three suicide bombers drove their explosive-laden cars into the gate of the Anbar Operation Command, the military headquarters for the province, killing five soldiers and wounding 12.
Fierce clashes erupted between security forces and Islamic State militants following the attacks. Islamic State militants later seized Malaab after government forces withdrew, with the militants saying they now held the military headquarters.
A police officer who was in Malaab said retreating forces left behind about 30 army vehicles and weapons that included artillery and assault rifles. He said some two dozen police officers also went missing during the fighting.
All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to talk to journalists.
On a militant website frequented by Islamic State members, a message from the group claimed its fighters held the entire city of Ramadi. It said militants held the 8th Brigade army base, as well as tanks and missile launchers left behind by fleeing soldiers. The message, while it could not be independently verified by The Associated Press, was similar to others released by the group and was spread online by known supporters of the extremists.
One official in Anbar province, councilman Athal al-Fahdawi, said the city had fallen to the militants. Another, councilman Mahmoud Khalaf, denied it when reached by the AP. Federal authorities had no immediate comment.
The new setback came only a day after Baghdad’s decision to send reinforcements to help its battered forces in Ramadi.
Report by Associated Press.
Ramadi under siege from militants since Thursday
CCTV’s Xing Zheming reports on the siege in Ramadi, and the effects of its fall to ISIL.
Ramadi under siege from militants since ThursdayCCTV's Xing Zheming reports on the siege in Ramadi, and the effects of its fall to ISIL.
Roby Barrett on the Ramadi situation
For a closer look at the situation CCTV’s Susan Roberts spoke to Roby Barrett in Dallas, Texas. He is an expert from the Middle East Institute and also a Senior Special Operations Fellow at the Joint Special Operations University.