Iran-led Shia militias are leading the fight to retake Ramadi from ISIL. The city fell on 15 May after the Iraqi army fled the scene before the Islamic State fighters arrived, even though the pro-government forces vastly outnumbered the insurgents. Baghdad announced that some army units would accompany the militias in the operation to liberate Ramadi.
“The operation to liberate Anbar has started with the cooperation of the Iraqi Army and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF),” said Iraqi Defense Minister in a statement broadcast on state television Tuesday, referring to the umbrella organization for predominantly Iran-led Shia militias. (The New York Times, 26 May)
It was not immediately clear if the PMF would accept continued United States airstrikes in the area and close air support to the militia and Iraqi forces. In the last phase of the Battle of Tikrit in late March, the Iranians pulled out from the battle to protest Iraqi government’s decision to invite U.S. air support after the Iran-led offensive had stalled for more than three weeks.
Note: In an unfortunate sectarian move by the militias, the operation to liberate the predominantly Sunni city of Ramadi was codenamed “Labbaik Ya Hossein,” (We Are Here for You, Ya Hossein), calling for Imam Hossein, the revered Shia Imam, and a battle cry of Shias (against Sunnis). Sectarianism might win battles against ISIL, including in Ramadi, but if the Iran-led coalition wants to win the support of the Sunni populace and with it the war against Sunni extremism, it cannot act in such divisive way. Extremists cannot be defeated by extremism. Preserving the sovereignty of Iraq should be the goal, not what happened in Karbala some 1,400 years ago.
Photo credit: Shia militias during an operation at Baiji Oil Refinery; 25 May 2015 (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)