Hundreds Killed as Ramadi Falls to IS

Hundreds Killed as Ramadi Falls to IS
Hundreds Killed as Ramadi Falls to IS

The Islamic State militant group killed at least 500 people - both civilians and Iraqi soldiers - and forced 8,000 to flee their homes as it captured the Iraqi city of Ramadi, a provincial official said Monday, while Shiite militias vowed to mount a counter-offensive and reclaim the Anbar provincial capital.

The statements followed a shocking defeat as IS seized control of Ramadi late on Sunday, sending Iraqi forces fleeing in a major loss despite the support of US-led airstrikes targeting the extremists, AP said in a report.

The final IS push to take Ramadi began early Sunday with four nearly simultaneous bombings that targeted police officers defending the Malaab district in southern Ramadi, killing at least 10 police and wounding 15. Later, three suicide bombers drove their explosive-laden cars into the gate of the Anbar Operation Command, the military headquarters for the province, killing at least five soldiers and wounding 12, the officials said.

With defeat looming, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had ordered security forces not to abandon their posts across Anbar, fearing the extremists could capture the entire desert region that saw intense fighting after the 2003 US-led invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

Al-Abadi also ordered Shiite militias to prepare to go into the Sunni-dominated province, ignoring US concerns their presence could spark sectarian bloodshed. By late Sunday, a large number of Shiite militiamen had arrived at a military base near Ramadi, apparently to participate in a possible counter-offensive, said the head of the Anbar provincial council, Sabah Karhout.

Militias Vow Retaliation

Youssef al-Kilabi, a spokesman for the Shiite militias said on Monday that the paramilitary forces have drawn up plans for a Ramadi offensive in cooperation with the government security forces and vowed to dislodge IS from Ramadi.

We will "eliminate this barbaric enemy," al-Kilabi said. "God willing, we will achieve this triumph and we will not accept anything less than that." He did not elaborate on the plans or the timing of a counter-offensive.

Since IS blitzed through northern and western Iraq last June, thousands of Shiites militiamen have answered the call from the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to take up the fight against the militants.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he remained confident about the fight against IS, despite the setbacks like the loss of Ramadi.

Kerry, traveling through South Korea, said that he's long said the fight against the militant group would be a long one, and that it would be tough in the Anbar Province of western Iraq where Iraqi security forces are not built up.

Sunday's retreat recalled the collapse of Iraqi security forces last summer in the extremist group's push across Iraq that saw the IS capture a third of the country, where the group has since declared a caliphate, or Islamic State.

Massive Casualties

Bodies, some burned, littered the city's streets as local officials reported the militants carried out mass killings of Iraqi security forces and civilians. Online video showed Humvees, trucks and other equipment speeding out of Ramadi, with soldiers desperate to reach safety gripping onto their sides.

"We do not have an accurate count yet," said an Anbar spokesman, Muhannad Haimour. "We estimate that 500 people have been killed, both civilians and military, and approximately 8,000 have fled the city." The figures could not be independently confirmed, but IS militants have in the past killed hundreds of civilians and soldiers in the aftermath of their major onslaughts.

The estimates given by Haimour are for the past three days, since Friday, when the battle for the city entered its final stages. The 8,000 figure is in addition to the enormous exodus in April, Haimour said, when the UN said as many as 114,000 residents fled Ramadi and surrounding villages at the height of the violence.