Ramadi is the capital of Iraq’s western Anbar province, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi signed off on the deployment of Shi’ite militias to attempt to seize back the area, a move he previously resisted for fear of provoking a sectarian backlash.
Earlier, security sources said government forces evacuated a key military base after it came under attack by the insurgents, who had already taken one of the last districts still holding out.
It was the biggest victory for Islamic State in Iraq since security forces and Shi’ite paramilitary groups began pushing the militants back last year, aided by air strikes from a U.S.-led coalition.
The U.S. Defense Department, while not confirming the fall of Ramadi, sought to play down the impact on the broader Iraq military campaign of an Islamic State seizure of the city.
“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 in Islamic State’s favor, but acknowledged it would give the group a “propaganda boost.”
“That just means the coalition will have to support Iraqi forces to take it back later,” Smith said, adding that the United States was continuing to provide it air support and advice.
As the above map illustrates, IS control of Ramadi and Falluja provide a striking corridor directly into the West of Baghdad, which will undoubtedly lead to sustained suicide attacks there and elsewhere in the capital city if Iraqi ground forces and US air strikes are unsuccessful in dislodging IS from Ramadi.
Complicating matters are the Iraqi political considerations being deliberated as to whether it is expedient to provide arms and support to Sunni Tribes which oppose IS but are also suspicious of the Shia central government.
If Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi goes too far in providing arms and support to potential Sunni allies this will likely lead to the evaporation of his political support and a quick removal from power. On the other hand, not helping willing Sunni supporters is likely to lead to further alienation of these groups from the central government, all but exacerbating IS influence in the region.[Reuters][Infographic: Michael Pregent, The Daily Beast]