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Shi'ite Militias Set Course for Ramadi After IS Victory

by Victoria Macchi May 18, 2015

Shi'ite militias are 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 an 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.

The military and tribal forces that fled Ramadi Sunday have regrouped on the city's eastern edge, in what several sources told VOA is an attempt to block any IS advance toward Baghdad.

IS fighters raised their flag over Ramadi on Friday, marking one of its most prominent territorial gains this year. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed confidence Monday that pro-government forces in Iraq would regain control.

Local officials said three days of fighting left 500 people dead in Ramadi,125 kilometers west of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

A Pentagon spokesman acknowledged Monday the IS gain was a set-back, part of what he called the 'ebbs and flows' of 'a difficult, complex, bloody fight.'

He said that the militias have a role in the anti-IS campaign, as long as they are controlled by the central Iraqi government and are not 'more sectarian in nature.'

The provincial council for Anbar, a largely Sunni governorate, approved the help of the Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Units against Islamic State militants, councilman Ameere Addai said.

Sabah Karhout Al Helbusi, head of the Anbar provincial council, told VOA's Kurdish service Monday that a 'humanitarian catastrophe' was underway in the city.

A United Nations spokesman said 6,500 families have been displaced, with most fleeing eastward toward Fallujah and Khaldiyah. He said UN agencies and others are delivering aid, including mobile medical units.

A U.S.-led international anti-IS coalition has targeted militant positions in and around Ramadi with almost daily airstrikes since October, according to daily reports from the Pentagon. Those bombings dropped significantly in the week leading up to the IS takeover, before an air campaign from Friday to Monday struck 19 times, taking out IS tactical units, fighting positions, and buildings, according to the Pentagon.

A White House spokesman said Monday that U.S. airstrikes will continue 'until Ramadi is retaken.' He added that the U.S. have conducted 32 strikes on the city in the past three weeks, but did not explain the let-up in the days before Ramadi fell to IS hands.

Margaret Besheer contributed from the United Nations, Jeff Seldin from the Pentagon,Balen Saleh from VOA Kurdish Service, and Aru Pande at the White House



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