BEIRUT: Iraqi pro-government forces on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) repulsed an assault by the militant group Islamic State (IS) on the city of Ramadi, capital of western Anbar province, according to official and media accounts.
Al Iraqiya, the semiofficial state news outlet, quoted Brig. General Kathem Fahdawy, police chief in Anbar, as saying, “Security forces supported by tribal fighters repelled the largest attack of Daesh on Ramadi,” referring to IS by its Arabic acronym.
The IS offensive, which began on Friday, was described as the militants’ most ambitious effort yet to seize Ramadi, about 60 miles west of the capital, Baghdad. The IS has controlled parts of Ramadi and environs for months.
As the battle raged, the head of the Anbar provincial council, Sabah Karhout, telephoned Prime Minister Haider Abadi and the US ambassador in Iraq asking for “urgent reinforcements” and an “intensification” of air sorties, according to press accounts.
Meanwhile, Iraqi news outlets said pro-government members of the Albu Fahd tribe were on the offensive against Islamic State positions in Sajariya, east of Ramadi, where fierce fighting was reported.
Anbar is a largely Sunni Muslim area that stretches from west of Baghdad to the border of Syria. The province is a stronghold of the IS, which has declared its “caliphate” across broad sections of Iraq and neighboring Syria.
For months, government forces have held out in central Ramadi against IS attacks.
“The gunmen of Daesh are now demoralized and are going crazy due to the great losses they’ve taken in the province,” Sheik Faisal Assafi, head of the tribal council of Anbar, said in a statement to Iraq’s Sumariya news outlet.
The tribal leader also criticized what he called the role of the US-led coalition, calling it “weak and very elementary” and demonstrating a “lack of seriousness” in the fight against Islamic State. The United States and its allies have been conducting air strikes for months against militant positions in Iraq and Syria.
During the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and occupation through 2011, Ramadi and nearby Fallujah were hubs of the Sunni-led insurgency against the Washington-backed central government in Baghdad. US forces finally managed to win alliances with some Sunni tribes, and put tribal fighters on the US payroll to battle Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
But many Anbar residents remained hostile to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and welcomed Islamic State, a group that claims to champion the Sunni cause. Still, the militants have not spared their Sunni adversaries.
This month, Islamic State massacred hundreds of members of the Albu Nimr tribe in Anbar province, including women and children.