BAGHDAD — On Dec. 13, a high-ranking officer in Anbar province held security commanders accountable after the Wafaa subdistrict southeast of Ramadi fell under the control of the Islamic State (IS). Areas in the district quickly succumbed to the control of IS while surrounding areas also fell under the thumb of the terrorist organization, which raised concern that IS might take over the whole province. This was particularly true after the organization took the initiative of military advancement, achieved during previous battles in the governmental zone in the province's center, where the headquarters of local government and police forces are located.
The officer, who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, said that IS mobilized 1,000 fighters to enter the subdistrict and cordon it off.
“The battle lasted for three consecutive days and security forces were able to kill and wound a number of fighters. Security commanders, however, did not respond to our continuous calls for backup and support, which led to the subdistrict falling under the control of IS,” he said.
This story does not seem to be uncommon to developments in Anbar. The siege of Iraqi soldiers by IS in their military bases, or the complete fall of cities, has always been the result of security commanders being unresponsive to the calls issued by besieged officers and soldiers.
“Security commanders are being neglectful,” the officer said, adding, “The central and local governments are turning a blind eye to the calls, and we don’t know why.”
On Dec. 14, as a result of the deteriorating security situation in Anbar, an area that was controlled by army and police members and tribal fighters fell to IS. The area was vital and constituted the backbone for the transportation of equipment and supplies from Al-Asad military base in eastern Haditha, which is affiliated with the Iraqi army, to soldiers in other military zones. The base has now come under the control of IS.
On Dec. 15, Naim al-Qaoud, the head of the Bunemer tribes, warned the Iraqi government that Anbar would fall completely if tribal fighters were not provided with arms.
Qaoud, whose tribe fought side by side with security forces and lost more than 500 men in battles, said in an interview with Al-Monitor, “Fighters no longer have enough arms or ammunition.” He added, “We cannot continue fighting like this.”
On Dec. 22, the head of Anbar’s provincial council, Sabah Karhoot, denied that security forces in Anbar had retreated. However, he spoke of a problem with arming tribes that are fighting with the government.
In a phone interview, Karhoot told Al-Monitor, “IS leaders are running away from Anbar as the army and tribesmen advance in fighting.”
Karhoot also noted that the Wafaa subdistrict was retaken, alluding to a restoration of the military initiative on the part of security forces after they won back main transportation routes that link between the cities of the province.
Concerning the armament of tribes, Karhoot said, “There were concerns expressed by the central government in the past in terms of arming tribes.” However, he added, “Arms are being sent to tribesmen.”
Nonetheless, according to Karhoot, these arms cannot defeat IS as every fighter was given a Kalashnikov rifle and only 60 bullets. “These arms can do nothing in the face of IS tanks and armor,” he said. He then added, “Security forces cannot advance without Iraqi and international aerial cover; Anbar is an arena of war.”
“This is why the liberation of cities is delayed. Security forces are on the defensive because the air force cannot fully cover the battle arenas,” he concluded.
Hisham al-Hashimi, an expert on terrorist organizations, listed three main reasons for the retreat of security forces in Anbar. Hashimi told Al-Monitor, “The control of IS over all the main [transport] routes impeded support from reaching security forces and hindered their movement.” He noted that the second reason was, “IS economized use of ammunition,” while the third reason was, “IS adopts the tactic of [operating on] different battlefronts with sparse, yet consecutive, human confrontations, by mobilizing the most numbers of fighters against the Iraqi army and the tribes cooperating with it, which allowed the organization to control 85% of Anbar.”
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