One step back

Ramadi, capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, finally appears to be falling to ISIS:

IS “now occupies the government centre in Ramadi and has also raised its flag over the police HQ for Anbar”, a police major told the AFP news agency.

The militant group itself issued a statement confirming it had taken control of the complex and said it had killed an unspecified number of pro-government fighters.

Fifty police officers are known to have been taken prisoner in the assault, but reports that they have been summarily executed are unconfirmed.

Ramadi has been an island of government control in ISIS-dominated Anbar for some time now, so it’s not surprising that this finally happened. But still, this loss plus the hard fighting at Baiji have blunted any momentum that could have been gained from the Iraqi army/Iraqi militia capture of Tikrit in early April. Journalist Jill Carroll argues that “the Shiites are blowing it in Iraq,” and regular readers of this blog will probably recognize her argument:

One of the key ways needed to undercut support in Iraq for the Islamic State (IS), and any follow-on organizations if IS collapses is to address Sunni disenfranchisement and alienation by the Shiite-dominated government and security forces. Sunnis must be convinced and strongly supported by Baghdad to turn against IS. It would be a Herculean task, and was from 2003-2011 for the U.S. government. It is now a near impossibility.

The Iranian-backed Shiite militias have demonstrated they are the true power brokers in Iraq and they are not looking to heal the country. They are an unstable array of groups bent on punishing Sunnis. They certainly have no plans to cede a shred of power to them. This amounts to a recipe for sectarian bloodletting.

On Wednesday Shiite pilgrims on a march heavily guarded by Iraqi security forces to the Baghdad shrine of a key 7th century Shiite imam to mark his death, erupted in violence while passing through the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah just across the river from the Shiite shrine. News reports said several houses were set ablaze, along with the building housing the Sunni Waqf in Iraq, which maintains and manages funds to administer Sunni mosques.

Forget the violence and looting that characterized the aftermath of the Tikrit offensive; if Shiʿa mobs are now marching through Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad and attacking the Sunnis living there with impunity, things in Iraq really have gone around the bend. Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi got his job after Nouri al-Maliki’s blatantly anti-Sunni agenda helped birth Iraq’s current catastrophic situation; if he can’t or won’t do any better than this in terms of protecting Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, then they might as well have left Maliki in charge.

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