ISIS militants attack Ramadi as Iraqi army takes ground in Tikrit
fighters of the Islamic State mounted one of their fiercest assaults in months
on Wednesday, setting off 21 car bombs in the city of Ramadi, even as the group
lost ground in an Iraqi government offensive in Tikrit, security officials
Security forces fought
Islamic State holdouts in two remaining neighbourhoods on the west side of
Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, where militants massacred more than
1,000 Shiite Iraqi soldiers last year.
The city has been the
focus of a weeklong assault by Iraqi forces, the largest operation against the
Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, since it swept into control of much
of the country last year. Iraqi government troops and their Shiite militia
allies appeared to be close to recapturing the city on Wednesday and scoring a
strategically and emotionally significant victory.
To the west, in Ramadi,
the capital of Anbar Province, the militants aimed to show that they could
still inflict pain even as they lost ground in Tikrit.
Hikmat Suleiman, the
political adviser to the governor of Anbar, said that because of fortified
defences, growing battle experience and improved intelligence, the Iraqi forces
in Ramadi were able to keep casualties in the car bombings to a minimum by
attacking and thwarting the vehicles as they approached, blowing up most of
them before they reached their apparent targets.
A senior military
official at the Anbar Province operations command said five people were killed
in the bombings and scores were wounded.
With so much attention
focused on Tikrit, the fighting in Anbar has raged largely out of the
spotlight, but it has been fierce. Two top commanders on the government side
were killed as the security forces came close to retaking the town of Garma
from militant control.
Iraqi leaders attending
an annual forum in Sulaimaniya, in the semiautonomous Kurdistan region,
followed the news of the battles with great interest on Wednesday, declaring in
speech after speech that the highest stakes and biggest challenges would come
after the Islamic State was defeated in Tikrit and elsewhere, and the time came
to unify Iraq.
Much rides on the
outcome of the battles and what happens afterward. The bulk of the government
forces are made up of Shiite militias, and there have been fears that they
would engage in revenge attacks in Tikrit and Anbar, as they have been accused
of doing in Diyala Province.
Even so, some Sunni
residents in areas held by the Islamic State have said that they would welcome
the Shiite militias if they rid them of the militants’ harsh rule. Community
leaders said that a victory without abuses in its wake could help reduce
tensions between the sects.
A video circulating on
social media appeared to have been taken by government-allied militiamen as
they drove through Albu Ajeel, a town south of Tikrit. Rows of burning
buildings are seen, and a uniformed man by the side of the road is heard to
say, “Burn them, burn them.” The person who is apparently doing the filming is
heard saying that the Asa’ab Ahl al-Haq militia is in control of the town.
Many Shiite militiamen
believe that the residents of Albu Ajeel took part in the massacre of the
soldiers last year, and some Iraqi commentators said on Wednesday that the
video was evidence that the militias were carrying out revenge attacks.
But in Alam, another
town near Tikrit were buildings were set on fire on Wednesday, the mayor, Laith
Hameed al-Jabouri, said the Islamic State militants were responsible. He said
in a telephone interview that he had entered the town along with local Sunni
fighters and Shiite militia forces, and found that the buildings, including his
house, were already on fire.
“Would I burn my own
house?” he said.
At least 4,000 Sunni
tribal fighters have taken part in the battle for Tikrit on the government
side, and another 4,000 have been mobilized in Anbar, according to security and
In Anbar, Shiite
militias have only a minimal presence, according to Mr. Suleiman, the political
adviser. He said most of the fighting there was being carried out by the
official Iraqi armed forces and local fighters, including what is known as an
Awakening brigade, composed of Sunni Arabs who oppose the Islamic State.
Awaad Sami al-Laghawa,
the leader of the brigade, was killed in battle on Tuesday, officials said,
along with the assistant commander of an Iraqi army division, Brig. Gen. Wadha
An earlier version of a
reporting credit with this article misidentified one of the contributors. He is
Ahmed Salah, not Ahmed Maher.
contributed by Falih Hassan and Ahmed Salah in Baghdad and by employees of The
New York Times in Anbar and Salahuddin Provinces.