On Monday, December 28, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) recaptured the Iraqi city of Ramadi in a victory that comes more than seven months after it fell into the hands of the Islamic State. Ramadi had become the epicenter of a bloody power struggle in Iraq’s Anbar province, coveted by ISIS for its proximity to the capital, Baghdad. Through closely coordinated maneuvers, utilizing the combined efforts of Iraqi forces on the ground and coalition airpower, the Iraqi government successfully counterattacked against ISIS, and the Islamic State may be experiencing the beginnings of its loss of control over the region.
ISF did not recapture Ramadi alone. Col. Steve Warren attributed the recent success to “many months of hard work by the Iraqi army, the Counter Terrorism Service, the Iraqi Air Force, local and federal police, and tribal supporters—all supported by over 600 coalition airstrikes since July.” Nevertheless, this victory marks the first time the ISF has led an offensive on the ground without the support of the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shiite-led militias, which Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been criticized for relying on too heavily in the past. (Indeed, the ISF’s contributions to date had been minimal, compared to the Kurdish offensive which expelled much of ISIS from the Nineveh province, or the Shiite campaign which drove ISIS from Tikrit last March.)
Morale is higher than it has ever been, but even this victory remains bittersweet. ISIS still holds towns and villages to the north and east of Ramadi, fueling fears of a potential resurgence and ensuring that it remains an omnipresent threat in Anbar. Thousands of the city’s former residents, who escaped in the weeks before the city first fell, were displaced to Baghdad, and newly liberated refugees likely will join them there. The city remains largely uninhabitable following more than 600 airstrikes led by the United States. Images from the war zone reveal plumes of thick black smoke, crumbling buildings, and streets rendered impassable by mountains of rubble.
It was the loss of Tikrit that first spurred the Islamic State to seize Ramadi. Coupled with their earlier loss of
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