May 18, 2015 | Quote

ISIS Counterpunch Stuns U.S. and Iraq

Another battle and another chaotic retreat by Iraqi government forces, who abandoned their positions in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province, despite U.S. air support and a last-minute appeal by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who called on his soldiers to “hold their positions.”

Only hours before the fall, the Baghdad government sent in reinforcements to try to contain what was a counterpunch mounted by the militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, to their defeat in Tikrit just weeks ago. Tikrit, in neighboring Salahaddin province, was the first substantial city lost by ISIS and it was hailed by U.S., and Iraqi leaders, as the start in earnest of the rollback of the militants.

U.S. officials are couching the loss of Ramadi as a setback rather than a blow, arguing they had always expected ups and downs and reversals mixed in with steady progress in the fight against the Islamic extremists and their Sunni allies in Iraq. Only on Friday, Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley, chief of staff of the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, was describing to reporters how ISIS is “on the defensive throughout Iraq and Syria,” although he cautioned the terror army will still have “episodic successes” but they won’t “materialize into long-term gains.”

In Palmyra, Syrian government forces appeared at the weekend to be containing the militants, for now.  And while insisting the battle for Ramadi isn’t yet over, Pentagon officials are playing down the impact of the battle there on the broader Iraq military campaign. “Ramadi has been contested since last summer and ISIL now has the advantage,” Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith said, using another acronym for Islamic State. She said the loss of the city would not mean the overall Iraq military campaign was turning to the Islamic State’s advantage, but acknowledged it would give the group a “propaganda boost.”

In January, taking advantage of a breakdown of a non-aggression pact between militia forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian Kurds, Islamic militants started to probe territory southeast of the mainly Kurdish Syrian border town of Kobani and launched an offensive on Hasakah, a strategic town in Syria’s Kurdistan that straddles roads linking ISIS-controlled Mosul in Iraq to the Syrian town of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State.

With the Ramadi assault, the ISIS planners have also set up the circumstances for more trouble for the Iraqi government in Iraq’s western Anbar province. Iraq’s prime minister is now saying he will deploy Shia militias to the city to mount a fightback—but that is likely to roil more Sunnis in a province that they dominate and undermine efforts get the tribes that are aligned with ISIS to defect.

Meanwhile, with the expansion of affiliates in Libya, Afghanistan, and Libya, and stepped up efforts to inspire terrorist activities, whether by lone wolves or more directed agents of terror, in the United States and Europe ISIS has even more options. Analyst Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank, suspects ISIS will answer Friday’s Delta Force raid with a terror attack in the West to try to blunt the psychological warfare edge the U.S. secured with the nighttime commando assault. “Such strikes could invite more attacks here, against the homeland,” he says.


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