Despite US-led coalition airstrikes in support of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), ISIS continues to make gains in a critical province bordering Baghdad, Tamer El-Ghobashy and Ali A. Nabhan report for The Wall Street Journal.
Anbar province, a key buffer zone between Syria and Baghdad, is facing a critical threat as ISIS militants have pushed their efforts to expand and consolidate their presence.
While most eyes and efforts are now on routing ISIS in Syria, especially from the Kurdish city of Kobane by the Turkish border, ISIS has scored a number of victories that puts all of Anbar at risk.
“The situation in Anbar is really critical,” Falih Al Essawi, deputy head of the Anbar provincial council, told WSJ. He latered added that Iraq’s military in Anbar is “continuously losing.”
Last week, ISIS militants overran the city of Hit, which lies along a strategically important route between Anbar’s provincial capital Ramadi and the Haditha Dam, Iraq’s second largest.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, ISIS controlled most of the territory from Qaim on the Syrian border to the city of Abu Ghraib, only 40 kilometers (24 miles) from Baghdad, as of October 7. This wide spread control of the province allows the militants to harass and sever supply lines for the ISF, limiting their potential for resistance to the jihadist advance.
There is concern that ISIS may already be in range to shell Baghdad’s International Airport. The jihadists are attempting to consolidate their hold on Abu Ghraib. The city is only 24 miles from the capital, and the militants have a number of 155 mm howitzers that have a range of about 20 miles. If ISIS can hold territory in Abu Ghraib, they would be able to begin shelling the Iraqi capital.
ISIS has also mounted sustained attacks on the provincial capital of Anbar, Ramadi. Ramadi has continued to be a locus of anti-ISIS tribal resistance; however, the militants hope to capture to the city to ensure minimal resistance should the group push for Baghdad.
Essawi told The Wall Street Journal that the fall of Ramadi to ISIS would “mean the fall of the whole of Anbar.” This would place Baghdad at a significantly higher risk, however, with current US air support, Essawi said that the current situation in Ramadi was stable.
State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the US has “been clear we’re going to do everything possible to defend” Baghdad.
Over the weekend the US used Apache helicopters to coordinate precision strikes with ISF forces on the ground while trying to retake the city of Fallujah in Anbar.
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