Daesh close to seizing strategic Iraqi town in Anbar province

Published February 15th, 2015 - 06:00 GMT
Al-Baghdadi is a strategic town in the province of Anbar in Iraq. (AFP/File)
Al-Baghdadi is a strategic town in the province of Anbar in Iraq. (AFP/File)

Daesh fighters have now taken control of large parts of the strategic Anbar town of Al-Baghdadi—55 miles west of the provincial capital Ramadi—amid fears that the jihadist group is seeking to overrun the nearby Ain Al-Assad airbase where US troops are training local forces.

Fierce fighting between local tribal forces and Daesh broke out in the western Iraqi town over the past 48 hours, with Daesh quickly overrunning a number of Al-Baghdadi districts.

Daesh simultaneously attacked the nearby Ain Al-Assad airbase. Around 25 Daesh militants carried out the attack, led by several suicide bombers, who managed to come close to the base on Friday before being repulsed by Iraqi security forces.

Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters that US Marines training Iraqi troops were not involved in the fight.

US forces had scrambled drones and Apache helicopters to assist Iraqi forces to repel the attack but the fighting was over by the time they arrived.

Al-Baghdadi and its environs, including the Ain Al-Assad military base where several hundred US marines are training Iraqi forces, represent an important foothold for anti-Daesh forces; Daesh controls an estimated 80 percent of Iraq’s western-most Anbar province.

The fighting in Al-Baghdadi continues with rapid changes on the ground making it difficult to give an accurate assessment over just how much of the town Daesh has been able to capture.

Although initial indications were that Daesh was able to take control over a large area of Al-Baghdadi, with some media reports saying that jihadist forces were in control of as much as 90 percent of Al-Baghdadi’s territory, local tribal forces backed by Iraqi government troops have now launched a counter-attack.

A senior Iraqi security force, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said: “Army forces have now deployed a combat regiment and a convoy of tanks and armored personnel carriers from Ain Al-Assad military base to purge Al-Baghdadi from ISIS control.”

Anbar Governor Suhaib Al-Rawi denied that Daesh was in control of the majority of the city, stressing that the jihadist forces had captured just one Al-Baghdadi district.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Rawi said: “Military reinforcements have already arrived in Al-Baghdadi and they will soon drive ISIS out.”

However Sheikh Ma’di Al-Samarmad, an Anbar tribal elder based in Al-Baghdadi, told Asharq Al-Awsat that despite the reinforcements and pledges of support from the central government the vast majority of the city’s 50,000 residents have been internally displaced by the fighting in the city and those who are left are looking for a way out.

Samarmad, who is a member of the powerful Al-Obeid tribe, said: “The families fleeing from the fighting are now looking for a safe exit to get to nearby Haditha. Daesh has deployed snipers on top of buildings and they are shooting at everyone trying to leave.”

“ISIS fighters have cut off communications, electricity and water in the city, and they are now in control of a wide area of Al-Baghdadi,” he said late Friday, warning of a possible “massacre” of Al-Baghdadi’s residents unless help arrives soon.

By Manf Al-Obaidi

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