Iraq Launches Operation to Retake Anbar

Iraq Launches Operation to Retake AnbarIraq Launches Operation to Retake Anbar

Iraq formally announced on Tuesday the start of a military operation to liberate the western province of Anbar from IS insurgents.

Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for the Shiite paramilitaries known as Hashid Shaabi, which are taking part, said in a news conference broadcast on the state TV channel that the operation had been named "Labeyk Ya Hussein."

He said Iraqi forces had launched an operation in desert areas northeast of Ramadi aimed at cutting off the militants and preparing a bid to retake the city. The operation will see a mix of security forces and paramilitaries move south from Salaheddin Province, said Assadi, Reuters reported.

"The operation's goal is to liberate those regions between Salaheddin and Anbar and try to isolate the province of Anbar," Assadi said in a statement.

Anbar's provincial capital Ramadi had resisted IS assaults for more than a year but fell earlier last week after a massive offensive and a chaotic retreat by security forces. IS had already seized large parts of Anbar starting in early 2014.

Last Saturday, Shiite militias massed in the nearby town of Habbaniya and headed to Ramadi’s outskirts to assault IS positions. They reclaimed the town of Husaybah, nearly six km east of Ramadi.

The move to wrest Ramadi back into government control is seen as vital to stop IS using it as a launch pad to attack Baghdad, which lies just an hour’s drive further east along Iraq’s main motorway.

Biden Stresses US Commitment

US Vice President Joe Biden reassured Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi of the US commitment to Iraq's fight against IS on Monday after the US defense chief questioned Iraqi troops' will to fight.

As the United States commemorated Memorial Day on Monday, Biden reassured al-Abadi that the US remained committed to helping Iraq fight IS, an effort at damage control after Defense Secretary Ash Carter's controversial comments on Sunday targeted the Iraqi Army.

Biden thanked al-Abadi for "the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces," according to the White House, and welcomed the decision to mobilize troops and "prepare for counterattack operations."

The vice president pledged full US support to "these and other Iraqi efforts to liberate territory from IS," according to the statement.

US defense chief had warned on Sunday that Iraqi troops will not be able to defeat IS until they develop a “will to fight,” reflecting the deep level of concern and frustration inside some quarters of the President Barack Obama administration in the wake of the Iraqi military’s collapse in Ramadi last week.

Abadi later said in a comment that the defense secretary "was fed the wrong information." Carter's remarks, Iraq's indignation and Biden's apologetic efforts come after IS took Ramadi over a week ago.

Iraqi Diplomats Hit Back

The Iraqi Army's willingness to let Ramadi fall to IS "surprised all of us," Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq said on Monday, a day after scathing criticism of the Iraqi military by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

"It's not clear for us why such a unit, which was supposed to be trained by the Americans for years, and supposed to be one of the best units in the army, would withdraw from Ramadi in such a way," He said in an televised interview with CNN. "This is not the army that we are willing to see or we are expecting to see."

"If they don't see the future for them in Iraq, I don't think they will fight IS in the way we want them," Mutlaq noted.

Hakim al-Zamili, head of the Iraqi parliament’s defense and security committee and a Shiite militia commander, also slammed Carter.

“What the Americans are saying is delusional and not true. They want to make the Iraqi Army look weak as a justification to invade Iraq again,” said “Yes, there was a setback in Ramadi, but it was only a setback.”