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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Sunni Fighters Help Hold Ramadi as Army Pursues IS Holdouts

by VOA News December 30, 2015

Iraqi military officials say Sunni tribal fighters are helping hold territory in Ramadi after the army largely pushed Islamic State militants out of the key city west of Baghdad.

Small pockets of resistance remain in Ramadi after Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes spent the past week on an intensified offensive that led to the recapture of the main government complex and a visit Tuesday from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

A spokesman for the coalition, U.S. Col. Steve Warren, said Tuesday there were 150-250 Islamic State fighters left, down from a high of up to 1,000. He said there had been more than 600 airstrikes around Ramadi during the past six months.

Iraqi and U.S. officials said the Sunni fighters played no large role in recapturing Ramadi, but on Wednesday were holding liberated areas. Sunni tribal forces were a big part U.S. success against al-Qaida fighters in that region in 2006 and 2007, and many see a need for local fighters to be able to again stand up against the threat posed by Islamic State.

Abadi vowed to next target Iraq's second largest city of Mosul where Sunnis are also a majority. Islamic State has been in control there since June 2014 when the group made its lightning advance to seize large areas of northern and western Iraq and in eastern Syria.

To the north and east of Mosul, Kurdish forces have had success in driving out Islamic State, but they have been wary of operating outside of their traditional territory.

Iraqi Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari expressed the need for the Kurds to help retake Mosul, a largely Sunni city, telling Reuters the Peshmerga fighters are a "major force" and will be necessary in that battle.

Zebari said given the size of the area that must be secured around the city, the operation may also require local Sunni fighters and Iran-backed militias.



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