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Liberating al-Anbar

On 18 March 2015, Iraq's defense minister said Baghdad saw the Sunni province of Anbar - the first Iraqi province to fall to the Islamic State's group's insurgency last summer - as key to the retaking of Mosul, the country's second-largest city.

A top Iraqi Shia militia leader said 03 April 2015 the next target for Baghdads anti-jihadist offensive will be Anbar province, which he insisted can be liberated without any American military assistance. Hadi al-Ameri, head of Iraq's powerful Shia militias, known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), told a news conference in the center of Tikrit that his forces planned to advance westwards next to free Anbar province from Sunni Islamic militants.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said on 08 April 2015 that the country's "next battle" was retaking western province of Anbar, most of which is under the Islamic State (IS) group's control. "We will prevail in Anbar as we prevailed in Tikrit," Abadi said on his official Facebook page, referring to Iraqi forces' liberation of the strategic city of Tikrit.

Abadi visited Anbar, a predominantly Sunni region, on 08 April 2015 as Iraqi forces launched a new offensive against IS militants there. Army officers said IS militants were driven back from Fallujah and the Sijariya area east of provincial capital, Ramadi. Military sources said the purpose of clearing Sijariya was to secure supply routes to the nearby Habbaniya air base and to weaken the militants' grip on territory connecting Ramadi and Fallujah the region's two key cities.

Islamic State militants went on tOn 10 April 2015 he offensive against Iraqi government positions in the Anbar province capital of Ramadi Saturday, despite several days of government insistence that it was preparing for an offensive against the militants. Iraqi media also report that the militants mounted a separate, but unsuccessful attack. Baghdad TV, quoting tribal sources, said Islamic State brought 1500 reinforcements to Ramadi from Mosul during the past 48 hours, during a sandstorm and periods of cloud cover.

By mid-April 2015 US and Iraqi officials appeared out-of-sync on how best to inflict a lasting defeat on the Islamic State group (IS) as Ramadi, the capital of Iraqs western Anbar province, appeared poised to fall into the terror organizations grip. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairmen Gen. Martin Dempsey, said I would much rather that Ramadi not fall but it won't be the end of a campaign should it fall. Instead, Dempsey placed higher value on the city of Bayji and the Baiji oil refinery.

IS fighters raised their flag over Ramadi on 15 May 2015, marking one of its most prominent territorial gains of the year. Three days of fighting left 500 people dead. The military and tribal forces that fled Ramadi 17 May 2015 regrouped on the city's eastern edge, in an attempt to block any IS advance toward Baghdad. Shi'ite militias headed to the outskirts of the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Monday after Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi called for support in the aftermath of the Islamic State victory there. The Popular Mobilization Units could boost security forces in a possible counter-offensive to take back the capital of Anbar province. The same paramilitary groups fought alongside government troops and tribesmen to reclaim Tikrit last month.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said the attempt to reclaim the Anbar provincial capital became more challenging when Iraqi security forces abandoned a vast array of American military equipment as they fled Ramadi in the face of the onslaught by the Islamic State fighters. Warren said the Iraqi troops left behind dozens of US military vehicles, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces. He said some of the vehicles were in working condition, others not.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter blamed Iraqi forces for showing "no will to fight" the Islamic extremists who last week seized the regional capital of Ramadi. "They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force and withdrew from the site," he said.

Iraq on 25 May 2015 rejected criticism by the U.S. defense secretary that Iraqi security forces lacked the will to fight against the Islamic State (IS) militant group after the fall of Ramadi. The Iraqi media highlighted the comments of the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who said in an interview with the BBC, that he was surprised by the comments of the U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and pledged to recapture Ramadi soon. "I'm surprised why he said that. I mean, he was very supportive of Iraq. I am sure he was fed with the wrong information," Abadi told the BBC. "It makes my heart bleed because we lost Ramadi but I can assure you we can bring it back soon," Abadi said.

Iraqi lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili, head of the parliamentary defense and security committee, told reporters that he considered Carter's comments "unrealistic and baseless," because the Iraqi security forces did have the will to fight but they lack good equipment and aerial support. "The Iraqi army, police did have the will to fight IS group in Ramadi, but they lack good equipment, weapons and aerial support," Zamili said.

On 26 May 2015 the Iraqi government said it had launched an operation to retake the western province of Anbar from Islamic State militants, who'd overrun the provincial capital, Ramadi, on May 17. A Shi'ite militia spokesman said Iraqi troops and pro-government militias had massed on three sides of the city for an offensive to reclaim the largely Sunni province, according to Iraqi state television.

Shi'ite militia spokesman Ahmed al Assadi said the military operation to liberate Ramadi was dubbed "Labaik ya Hussein" ("I am here for you, Hussein") a slogan in honor of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed killed in a seventh-century battle that led to the schism between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims. The phrase likely will exacerbate tensions in the region.

On June 02, 2015 the coalition of countries fighting the Islamic State group backed an Iraqi plan to retake Anbar province and its capital, Ramadi. Baghdads plan, presented by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at a multilateral ministerial meeting in Paris, aimed to get more recruits for the Iraqi army and more tribal fighters mobilized and armed.

In November 2015 Iraqi officials announced they had retaken the Palestine Bridge, which crosses the Euphrates River and connects Ramadi to other extremist-held areas. On December 08, 2015 Iraqi government troops retook parts of Ramadi from Islamic State fighters that seized the city earlier in the year. The retaking of the Al-Tameem neighborhood is a major success for pro-Baghdad forces, which had been battling Islamic State extremists in the area for months.

Iraqi security forces on 23 December 2015 continued major offensive for the second day to complete the capture of the city of Ramadi from Islamic State (IS) militants. Before the latest push into Ramadi, officials estimated that no more than 300 IS fighters remained holed up in the center. Thousands of civilians were still believed to be inside Ramadi, some of them used as human shields by IS.

The anti-terrorism troops, backed by Iraqi and US-led coalition aircraft, engaged in heavy clashes with IS militants. International warplanes bombarded an IS convoy of 14 vehicles carrying IS militants and ammunition in Albu Diyab area, destroying eight vehicles and killing at least 30 militants aboard. The advance was slowed down by IS snipers, dozens of roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings.

The anti-terrorism troops did not include Shiite militias, known as Hashd Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization. US diplomats and Sunni leaders rejected demands from the Shiite militias to participate in operations in Anbar for fear this could exacerbate sectarian tension, and militia leaders questioned the value of shedding Shiite blood to secure a Sunni region. For the first time units of Sunni tribal fighters had success on the battlefield. Sunni fighters had played a minor role in battling Islamic State compared with the larger, more powerful and mostly Iran-backed Shiite militias who formed the bulk of Popular Mobilization Forces.

"The city of Ramadi has been liberated," Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasul announced on state television on 28 December 2015. "The homeland is honored and a new history is started." The Iraqi army said it has "liberated" the strategic city of Ramadi from Islamic State (IS), handing government forces a major victory against the extremist group. Iraqi state TV showed government forces raising the national flag over the main government complex, and pro-government fighters parading through the streets after recapturing the Sunni-majority city they lost to IS militants in May 2015.

Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar Province, expressed caution, however. He said IS fighters maintained control over parts of Ramadi, the provincial capital. "The troops only entered the government complex," Mahlawi told the Associated Press. "We can't say that Ramadi is fully liberated. There are still neighborhoods under their control and there are still resistance pockets."

While US officials touted the success of the liberation of Ramadi from Daesh, the city was largely destroyed in the process.

Fallujah, in the western Anbar province, had been under the control of the Islamic State militant group since 2014. Reports emerged in early 2016 that militants from the group, began killing residents attempting to leave the city. IS was suspected of planning to use the civilian population as human shields in case of an army siege.

On 23 May 2016, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi announced the beginning of military offensive to reclaim the city from Daesh terrorists. The Iraqi government deployed at least 20,000 troops to combat extremists in the city, advising residents to flee the city ahead of the operation. "We remain prepared because our phase has not begun yet," Gen. Abdel Ghani Asadi said. According to the official, the forces currently participating in the operation have launched offensives from four directions to surround the city. "To surround it, but not to enter it. Other forces will deal with the siege," Ghani said, adding that the forces under his command would enter the city once the current stage of the operation had ended.

Conditions in Fallujah worsened as the Iraqi government continued its military offensive to re-take the city, which was captured by Islamic State militants in January 2014. While several hundred peoplemanaged to escape the besieged city, the UNHCR said some 50,000 civilians remained trapped inside. It said IS militants were preventing them from leaving and heavy bombardment by Iraqi forces is increasing the danger. Driving the refugee exodus appear to be reports that fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group had stepped up executions of men and boys in Fallujah since pro-government forces launched an offensive to re-take the city.

Thousands of Iraqi forces advanced on the Islamic State-held city of Fallujah, methodically moving to cut off as many as 1,000 IS fighters from help on the outside. Afraid of dying in the crossfire, 85,000 people have flooded out of the city and surrounding areas, overwhelming humanitarian agencies and Iraqi government efforts to help them. Many of the displaced are without adequate shelter, living under searing summer temperatures of 45 degrees or higher and punishing sandstorms.

On 26 June 2016 Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said Fallujah was "fully liberated" after Iraqi forces took control of the Julan neighborhood, the last area of the city still held by IS. Iraqi forces liberated the city of Fallujah from Islamic State fighters, following a month-long military offensive to seize control. The destruction of the city was extensive. Backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and a strong contingent of Shi'ite militias, Iraqi forces fought fiercely for weeks to oust the extremist fighters. There were no clear reports of how many IS militants and how many Iraqi security forces died or were wounded in the battle for the city.

Conspiracy theorists asked : "The question that pose itself here where did ISIS go and who helped them leave the city once again? When Iraqi security forces went into Fallujah city, ISIS military equipment and their footprints were still there, as if overnight they have disappeared. What happened in Tikrit province, happened in Fallujah too. ... Some Sunni tribes helped ISIS to move to a safe place.... It is possible Baathist population might helped ISIS... "

On 30 June 2016 Airstrikes killed at least 250 Islamic State fighters in Iraq, both Iraqi and US officials reported. The airstrikes hit around 40 Islamic State vehicles just south of Fallujah. These airstrikes marked the deadliest attack against the jihadist group, though officials warn their morale does not seem to be damaged, despite territorial losses.

In May and June 2016, after being held under siege for months, roughly 85,000 people fled Fallujah in a matter of days, swamping Iraqi government and aid agencies ability to help. The result was tens of thousands of people left without enough food, drinking water, shelter, medical supplies or latrines, in searing summer temperatures of 48 Celsius.



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