Cole: Iraq’s Ramadi falls to ISIL as Shiite Gov’t refuses to Arm Sunni Tribes

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

The Times of Baghdad (al-Zaman) reports that fighters of the Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) terrorist group raised their black flags over the central government building in Ramadi on Friday. The city, just sixty miles due west of Baghdad, is the capital of al-Anbar Province. Daesh announced their victory with megaphones at all the major mosques, having taken control of most of its neighborhoods. Government troops fled the city and repositioned outside it, facing continued attacks.

Ramadi police report that Daesh fighters attacked the government HQ on Thursday night with vehicle bombs driven by kamikazis, once a huge earth mover had broken down the walls. The deputy police chief was wounded. Fighting continued on Friday in some parts of the city. Just to the west of Ramadi lies an army HQ, which the Iraqi military still controls.


Daesh has been trying to take Ramadi for the past year, and in a concerted way since April, and had established a firm presence in the northern suburbs. Some 130,000 residents have fled. The organization recently lost Tikrit in Salahuddin Province north of Baghdad, and has had difficulty keeping the refining city of Beiji north of Tikrit. It needed a victory, and solidly Sunni al-Anbar Province, most of which it already controls, was the place it could make its advance.

An Iraqi officer said he had warned late on Thursday that without army reinforcements from Baghdad and without close air support from the US-led coalition that has been bombing Daesh elsewhere in the country, the city would shortly be lost.

Some of the problems Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi may be having keeping Ramadi may stem from his rift with some of the Shiite militias, who did the heavy lifting in the assault on Tikrit. Some of them have retired from the battlefield in anger because they were criticized for acting like Shiite extremists. But Sunni tribes in the Ramadi region eager to fight Daesh also complained that they have never received promised government weapons and that the government seems to be afraid to arm them.

Why exactly the Iraqi forces in Ramadi could not get reinforcements or air support is not clear. The Iraqi army also does have helicopter gunships, which appear also not to have been deployed, despite the fighting being near the capital.

The Daesh fighters characterize the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government as “Safavid,” referring to an early modern Shiite Iranian empire that ruled Iraq for 40 years in the late 1500s and early 1600s. They announced that they had taken the “Safavid police HQ.” In fact, Many police and pro-government forces in Ramadi are Sunni, and in any case the elected Iraqi government simply reflects the country’s Shiite majority.

If Daesh can keep Ramadi, al-Zaman points out, it will have two provincial capitals (it has had Mosul, capital of Ninevah Province, since last June).

Related Video:

Aljazeera English: “ISIL seizes main government compound in Ramadi”

21 Responses

  1. Jeb Bush….”Yeah knowing what we know now I would have ordered the invasion of Iraq.”

    Well other than the war being slightly over budget, (one and a half trillion dollars as opposed to the two hundred million projected cost), not being greeted as “Liberators”, not being a democracy for the Sunni population, the US trained Iraq army being a disaster and Iraq being in a constant state of war for twelve years… I can see, if you are a Bush, you could look at the current crisis of Iraq against ISIL and judge it to be a successful Bush enterprise.

    • Well other than the war being slightly over budget, (one and a half trillion dollars as opposed to the two hundred million projected cost),…

      Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimated some time ago that the total costs for the Iraq war would be in the range of three TRILLION dollars. Stiglitz more recently has revised that number upward to around $5 TRILLION – link to

      Mitch Daniels, Dubya’s budget director, estimated the war would cost around $60 billion. Subsequently, Daniels was elected by the people of Ohio to be their governor – and Ohio is a swing state in presidential elections. Go figure.

      • I’ve come to believe it’s fairly easy to figure… americans and especially those who regularly vote are just d__b, maybe some of the d__best in the world…

      • Perhaps you are thinking of Rob Portman. Portman was also a Director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Bush Administration and is currently one of our (Ohio) U.S. Senators.

        Daniels was governor of Indiana.

        We have lots of problems here in Ohio but Daniels isn’t one of them.

  2. recognize reality. iraq is divided. let it be so. stop wasting our taxes and treasury blowing shit up in iraq. it is a sinful waste. it is ugly.

    • You really don’t see reporting on the tribes rising against the government. Everything is conveniently grouped under IS or ISIS or Daesh. There’ve been a small number of news articles indicating that 50 Sunni tribes had taken up arms since the insurgency began in 2013.

  3. I still don’t get how ISIS moves in and captures provincial capitals. Were ISIS militants just hanging around, pretending that they had nothing to do? Perhaps they were cruising up and down highways in their Toyota trucks, disguised as tourists? Do these whackos ever appear to be out of place? Has anybody yet figured out the headquarters of ISIS?

  4. This has literally reached “worst case scenario” territory in Iraq. Its just terrible.

    • Has it? Sadly, the worst-case scenario is about to take a turn for the worse. It’s frightening that Da’esh has gotten this far. And it’s equally frightening the political paralysis, the cover up

  5. Why shouldn’t the reintroduction of an offshore policy serve the tattered remnants of our “interests” over there? Other than ‘protecting Israel’ not one of the people we’re in touch with can articulate our strategic goals at this point. Of course they are not specialists, but ‘degrade and destroy’? Is that a policy? Or is it a revisit of Vietnam’s body counts and decent intervals?

  6. I once read if the Taliban was rolling down the highway towards Islamabad and the Pakistan army attacked with just two helicopter gunships, the battle would be over in a few minutes. Why weren’t gunships used in Ramadi? Daesh couldn’t survive such an attack.

    • Jack, this is a great question. This is an organization of only tens of thousands of people. Their mythology is extreme. Surely, these people deserve the award for being the most tenacious warriors in the history of mankind. A helicopter gunship nor anything known to mankind is a match for a Toyota truck “gunship.” Nor for a kamikaze “gunship.” The greatest strength is that they can vaporize themselves in thin air, and instantaneously reappear wherever the Big Baghdadi directs. Moreover, they are the first military in history that has learned how to proceed with no need for supply lines—no need to replenish or replace arms, war materiel, food, water, etc.
      Much needs to be written about these miracles of human endeavor.

      • Jay L, you made some interesting as well as amusing posts about the mysterious way Daesh’s makes all their military moves and gets resupplied with food, water arms etc. etc. etc. It’s either magic or a network of HUGE underground tunnels and depots deep, deep below the surface. That’s how they moved from Tikrit to Ramadi like BAM!!! in just a few hours. You were wondering how they did that—UNDERGROUND SUPERHIGHWAYS is my best guess.

        On a more serious note….Saudi Arabia and Turkey want the Assad regime changed and the Shiite crescent gone. So, their interests in seeing Daesh defeated in Iraq probably isn’t heartfelt. Bibi Netanyahu would also like Assad gone, so there is no link between Iran and Hezbollah. If Daesh gets destroyed, the real winners are Iran, Assad and Hezbollah. Daesh being contained but not destroyed in Anbar province and eastern Syria is working well for the Saudis, Turkey and Netanyahu.

        Why would they want that to change?

        • @ Jack, you said about Daesh: “You were wondering how they [make their logistical moves]—UNDERGROUND SUPERHIGHWAYS is my best guess.”
          This is a good guess. However, I don’t think they need anything that elaborate. I heard somewhere that it was a force of hundreds of Daesh fighters that took Ramadi. So an underground wagon trail would suffice very nicely.
          Also, a little known fact is that Daesh “suicide vehicles” (reportedly an important weapon of Daesh) are capable of making multiple forays.

  7. Not penny more for these clowns. The leaders are corrupt and the soldiers are cowardly. Let’s stay OUT.

  8. Now this raid into Syria to kidnap or kill the chief financial office of ISIS really means what? They take Ramadi and Obama hits them in Syria. What would happen if a U.S. chopper had been shot down and soldiers were captured?

  9. A professional soldier knows that he may die for his country. These Iraqi soldiers are an enigma to me. The leader of their country is begging them not to flee. In military desertion is punished by death. News reports are coming that the troops abandoned their wounded comrades. This is amazing. If you don’t believe in the cause of your country, then still you don’t abandon your comrades. How can the people who fled Mosul crying and the men who are fleeing go back to their families with their heads raised? It baffles me because of the concept of honor is very strong in these societies.

    • one volunteer is worth ten pressed men, IS are fanatics who, if the old saying is true, and I think it is, have an army of 2 to 300,000 volunteers. They can be beaten, but if the Sunni community remain passive, in the face of such fanaticism, we are in for tough times.

  10. After the fiasco in Tikrit where the brave Shiis were dicouraged to continue their further advance, finally the US administration and the skeptics in Iraqi government have learned their lessons. Why should the Shiis risk their lives and treasures to protect a population who is, at best, unreliable? The Sunni tribes have to accept the new realities of Iraq and Syria and adapt. Otherwise, their future is quite bleak. Ramadi, which soon will be liberated by the Popular Moblization, should serve as a reminder to the inhabitants of the other cities in Anbar.

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