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Truth and Lies in Ramadi
21.05.15 11:26 Iraq War, "War on terror"
Truth and Lies in RamadiBy DAVID ROMANO 3 hours ago

This week Ramadi fell to the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS).  Ramadi is the capital of Anbar, the country’s largest (and overwhelmingly Sunni Arab) province. In geographic terms, ISIS’s control of the vast majority of Anbar gives it control over one third of Iraq’s territory. Its loss to ISIS represents a stunning blow to Baghdad and the American strategy against the jihadists.

Truth seems to have been lost in the rubble of Ramadi as well. Long after ISIS media began posting photos and video of a ghost town, eerily quiet as ISIS fighters hoisted their black flags over the city, Pentagon spokesmen were claiming that Ramadi had not fallen and the situation was “contested” and “still fluid.” 

After they could no longer ignore the obvious, the White House, Pentagon and State Department spokesmen all repeated the clearly rehearsed, identical, lockstep language of political spin, claiming that this is a “temporary setback,” part of the “ebb and flow of war,” that it did not come as a surprise, that ISIS is “suffering setbacks elsewhere in Iraq and Syria,” and that “Iraqi forces with U.S. help would take back Ramadi soon.”  Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters that “To read too much into this is a mistake. This is one fight, one episode, in which Iraqi Security Forces were not able to prevail -- today.” He then added that the Pentagon does not plan on changing its strategy in Iraq.

The failure in Ramadi is all the more striking because ISIS’ assault was not unexpected. In contrast to last June’s events in Mosul, this blow was telegraphed and the U.S. Air Force, the Iraqi Army, the police, Sunni tribal fighters and just about everyone else had ample time to prepare. Even if “Caliph” Baghdadi had called Prime Minister Abadi on the phone to tell him “By God, we are attacking Ramadi, the most important city in Anbar, and look forward to seeing your troops there,” the Iraqi forces would not have had more warning of this battle. Fighting for Ramadi actually began months ago, with the full ISIS assault occurring last week.  

Yet Baghdad still lost it – despite all the weapons shipped from Washington and Tehran, despite all the supporting American air strikes, despite the fact that Ramadi is less than an hour and a half drive from Baghdad.  A small band of practically-friendless, lightly-armed Syrian Kurds pushed back the same ISIS terrorists from Kobane, yet thousands of Iraqi forces could not defend Ramadi. Iraqi forces who fled the city gave accounts about “running out of ammunition,” “not receiving promised supplies from Baghdad,” “police that had gone unpaid since six months,” and promised reinforcements never arriving.  At around a hundred and twenty kilometers (eighty miles) from Baghdad, one would think that supplies and reinforcements should not have been that difficult for a government earning some $100 billion a year to provide to its forces in Ramadi.

Following the capture of Ramadi, ISIS also published photos of huge stockpiles of (mostly American) ammunition crates, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and other shiny new weapons that Iraqi forces left behind – which makes one wonder if someone is not telling the truth about lacking supplies and ammunition?  Or perhaps supplies and ammunition were only delivered to Iraqi Army Shiite fighters who do not see the point of risking their lives to defend a Sunni town, while Sunni defenders of the city with a will to fight had little to work with?

With President Obama apparently intent on blocking Congress’ recently passed bill to directly arm Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni Arab fighters combating ISIS, Washington does not appear interested in adjusting its hopelessly Baghdad-centric policy either. According to Ali Khedery, a former top U.S. official in Iraq from 2003 to 2010, there is a pressing need for a change of strategy: current U.S. administration officials in charge of Iraq policy need to be replaced with “a new set of egos that aren’t tied to policies that are failing.”

If the Obama administration continues with its current approach, more shiny new American weapons will end up in ISIS hands. Most of the rest will likely go to pro-Iranian Shiite militias responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers before 2011. These militias will now be called in to flatten Ramadi and in the process further alienate Iraqi Sunnis. 

The alternative, of course, might be for Mr. Obama to replace some of his Iraq policy people and listen to what his own Congress has to say about the issue.

David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He is the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and author of The Kurdish Nationalist Movement (2006, Cambridge University Press) and co-editor (with Mehmet Gurses) of Conflict, Democratization and the Kurds in the Middle East (2014, Palgrave Macmillan).



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