Iraq launches Ramadan counter-offensive

Even as Iraq’s Muslims prepared to mark the beginning of Ramadan on Saturday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government has launched its largest counter-offensive so far to reclaim territory seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgents. The offensive has sparked off giant refugee flows. Humanitarian workers have reported that tens of thousands have fled towards Kirkuk and Erbil, while some have fallen back to ISIS’ key base at Mosul.

Government sources said brigade-size forces, have cleared the road north to Samarra, and surrounded Tikrit from the south, east and west. Forces have also pushed west towards Fallujah, part of the corridor that has been used by ISIS to threaten Baghdad since last year.

The push came even as intense diplomatic efforts continued to build a new political coalition in Baghdad, with Saudi Arabia seeking to push key Sunni politicians to join Mr. Maliki’s Shia-dominated government.

Iraq’s military hopes to stabilise the frontline through the month of prayer and fasting, securing Baghdad against attack from the north and west — and preventing a jihadist breakthrough towards the cities of Karbala and Najaf, sacred to the Shia faith.

The Ramadan counter-offensive, military sources in Erbil said, involves large elements of the country’s single armoured division, backed by Mi-17 armed helicopters. The Army has also pushed forward several of its eight motorised infantry brigades. Its forces are also using 10 Scan Eagle drones, as well as Hellfire ground-to-air missiles mounted on Cessna turbo-prop aircraft, provided by the United States in December.

Even as the counter-offensive began, though, ISIS continued to target Baghdad’s periphery, firing rockets at Latifiya, on the city’s southern fringes, and at least one more at Sab al-Bour, in its north. Local media said at least 12 people were killed and several dozen injured in the strikes. The group’s ability to reinforce positions from its bases in Syria has also seemed undiminished, with reports suggesting thousands of new fighters have joined the group’s ranks.

Fighting has been ongoing in the Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province — home to cities like Ramadi and Fallujah — since December, 2013, when large-scale protests broke out against the government over human rights abuses.

Prime Minister Maliki responded by withdrawing the military, but police failed to prevent jihadists from using the opportunity to consolidate their positions. Insurgents then steadily took control of parts of Fallujah, Ramadi, Tarmiya and Abu Ghraib, all in striking range of Baghdad.

The Iraqi military, on paper, has overwhelming superiority over ISIS and its major ally, the Jaish al-Naqashbandiyya, linked to former dictator Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party. The International Institute of Strategic Studies’ authoritative Military Balance states, that Iraq had 2,71,400 active military personnel in the spring of 2013, with 1,93,400 in the Army, as well as 5,31,000 personnel in police and ancillary units guarding installations and oil fields. IISS figures also show that the military remains well funded, having received a record $17.1 billion, up from $14.6 bn. in 2013.

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2021 3:28:08 AM |

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