ISIS tightens its grip on Iraqi twon of Ramadi

ISIS tightens its grip on Iraqi twon of Ramadi

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Islamic State militants are cementing their hold on Ramadi – the Iraqi city they captured on Sunday, reports say.

Militants were going door-to-door looking for government sympathisers and throwing bodies in the nearby Euphrates river, residents were quoted as saying.Thousands of Iranian-backed militiamen are gathering at a nearby base ahead of a bid to retake the city. IS militants are reportedly heading towards them.

The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian crisis as thousands flee.

It says some 25,000 people have left the city, only 105km (65 miles) west of Baghdad, in recent days, adding to a flood of people already displaced from the area. Many were sleeping in the open.

The UN says it is trying to meet the needs of those displaced, but funds are low and its stocks have almost gone.

The loss of Ramadi, the capital of the western Anbar province, is a blow for both the Iraqi government and US strategy in the area, say the BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut.

Retaking it is a massive challenge to the Iraqi government, which has had to appeal to the Shia militias despite the risks of a sectarian backlash from sending them deep into the Sunni heartland, our correspondent says.

Police and military made a chaotic retreat from the city, which has been contested for months, after days of intense fighting.

Homes torched

Reports from Ramadi described deserted streets, with residents making hurried trips out of their houses to search for food.

IS militants were breaking into the homes of policemen and pro-government tribesmen, said residents who spoke to Associated Press news agency.

Homes and shops owned by pro-government Sunni militiamen were looted or torched, the residents said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Some 3,000 Shia militiamen are said to be “on stand-by” at al-Habbaniyah military camp – on the outskirts of the town of al-Khalidiyah east of Ramadi – in preparation for an attempt to recapture the city – deep in Iraq’s Sunni heartland.

The militias, known as the Popular Mobilisation (al-Hashd al-Shaabi), were key to the recapture from IS of another city, Tikrit, north of Baghdad, in April.

But although their presence was welcomed by some Sunni leaders, some Ramadi residents said they feared them as much as the Islamic State fighters.

“If the Shia militias enter Ramadi, they will do the same things being done by Daesh [IS],” Abu Ammar, an Anbar native who owns a grocery store in Ramadi, told AP.

“In both cases, we will be either killed or displaced. For us, the militias and IS militants are two faces of the same coin.”

The US will have to decide whether it will use its air power in support of the Iranian-backed militias, he says.

The US has not given a uniform response to the capture of Ramadi, with the Pentagon suggesting it is not tactically significant, while the state department describes it as a setback.

But the eight sorties flown over Ramadi by US forces in the past day suggest it is a pressing concern, says the BBC’s Jon Sopel in Washington.

Anbar province covers a vast stretch of the country west from Baghdad to the Syrian border, and contains key roads that link Iraq to both Syria and Jordan.

IS reportedly controls more than half of Anbar’s territory. – BBC News

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