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Iraq gov't forces prepare for strike on ISIL


05-19-2015 19:45 BJT

An official in Iraq's Anbar province has said government forces and Shiite militias are rallying for a counter-attack against the Islamic State group in the provincial capital Ramadi. 

The official said the army is gathering in an air force base about 80 kilometres west of Bagdad, and a large number of Shiite fighters were heading towards the areas controlled by Islamic State.

The official also said the militants haven't eased their attacks since gaining control of Ramadi, and had advanced to an area only about ten kilometres to the air force base, within striking distance of Baghdad.

Islamic State's control of Ramadi is a massive setback for Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition's attempts to halt the militants' advance. 

At present, the news couldn't be much worse for Iraqi leaders and the U.S. backed coalition trying to drive the Islamic State from the region. ISIL is now in firm control of Ramadi-a city only 110-kilometers to the west of Baghdad. The pitched fighting claimed as many as 500 lives - both Iraqi forces and civilians - as well as emboldened ISIL. 

Iraqi prime minister Haidar al-Abadi is now rushing Iranian-backed Shia militia to Ramadi as reinforcements.  The U.S. has been urging al-Abadi to postpone sending Shia fighters to the Sunni stronghold, concerned it would enflame sectarian fighting. But it is clear Iraq needs help if it is going to stop ISIL's onslaught.

"The international coalition should carry out a counter-attack to liberate the city of Ramadi from ISIL militants. The seizure of  Ramadi is too grave and serious, because of being so close to Baghdad," said Hanin Qadoo, Iraqi lawmaker.

The US led airstrikes have increased - and fleeing troops report large explosions in Ramadi. There are also growing concerns of a humanitarian crisis. At least eight-thousand more people fled Ramadi as it fell under ISIL control. Thousands have abandoned the city-most seeking refuge in heavily fortified Baghdad. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to put a positive spin on the huge setback-pointing out that ISIL is making strides at high cost-in casualties, finances and restricted movements.

"But that's not everywhere. And, so it is possible to have the kind of attack that we have seen in Ramadi. But I am absolutely confident in the days ahead that will be reversed," Kerry said.

To the west of Iraq, in Jordan, 18 nations are taking part in a military exercise, including five thousand U.S. troops. The chaos caused by ISIL in Syria and Iraq have made Jordan's security a key focus for the United States, which considers Jordan a stable, key ally in the region.

The questions remains-is this advance a show of ISIL's strength or just how weak and inefficient Iraqi fighters remain? There are reports of widespread executions as the Islamic State secures its grip on Ramadi. And now the Islamists control a full one-third of Iraq, and wide swaths of Syria. 

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