U.S.-backed Iraqis aim to free Ramadi from Islamic State

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After being prodded and cajoled by American officials for months, Iraqi government forces on Tuesday finally invaded the city of Ramadi in a bid to wrest control of the provincial capital from the Islamic State group, which is planning a doomsday exit from Anbar province if defeated there.Iraqis rebuilt a bridge over the Euphrates River after the Islamic State destroyed all crossings leading to central Ramadi. The military reported progress Tuesday in its move to retake the provincial capital. (Associated Press)

Instructions from the jihadi terrorist group found in Fallujah tell Islamic State fighters to impersonate members of Iraqi Security Forces and Shiite militias, kill civilians on videos and give the recordings to Al Jazeera, the pro-Sunni Arab-language news network owned by the ruling family of Qatar.

“Incite the public and show off the battle as it’s a sectarian battle. Assault some women and film this by dressing as [pro-Baghdad Shiite militias] and [Iraqi Security Forces] members,” said the instruction, translated from Arabic by the U.S. command in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the coalition is predicting victory in Ramadi, which has been held by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, since Iraqi forces were routed from the city in May. The loss of the city badly shook faith in the ability of Iraq’s army to take on the terrorist group, which has established itself in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

“Our forces are advancing toward the government complex in the center of Ramadi,” Iraq’s counterterrorism unit spokesman Sabah al-Numani told the Reuters news agency. “The fighting is in the neighborhoods around the complex, with support from the air force.”Iraqi soldiers stand guard at the Iraqi army headquarters in northern Ramadi. They have made progress in recent weeks toward the outskirts of the capital of Anbar province, but the final offensive has been slow in coming, despite a sizable advantage in government troops and manpower and prodding from the U.S. (Associated Press)

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has made retaking Ramadi as one of his three pillars to defeat the Islamic State, along with conquering the Salafist group’s capital in Raqqa, Syria, and orchestrating a series of air and ground raids on Islamic State leadership.

Iraqi forces have made progress in recent weeks to the outskirts of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, but the final offensive has been slow in coming, despite a sizable advantage in government troops and manpower. At his weekly press conferences, Army Col. Steve Warren, the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, has openly exhorted the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to begin the campaign to fully reclaim Ramadi.

Iraqi forces, backed by American air power, now seem poised to retake the city held by about 300 Islamic State fighters.

U.S. airstrikes have killed hundreds of Islamic State fighters, the command said, and government forces were seen moving through city center, although progress has been slow because of the fear of numerous improvised explosive devices planted by the terrorists.

“There’s still a long way to go,” Col. Warren said Tuesday. “There’s a lot of dense terrain here that needs to be negotiated.”

As for the thousands of civilians escaping Ramadi, “It’s going to be hard for them,” the spokesman said.

“I think the fall of Ramadi is inevitable,” he said.

The Iraqis in and around Ramadi are made up primarily of Sunni tribal members trained by the U.S. and Anbar police officers trained by Italian carabinieri, plus some regular Iraqi army soldiers and special counter-terrorism units.

Col. Warren said it is impossible to determine whether Islamic State leaders are planning atrocities in Ramadi as they are said to be in Fallujah.

“Our air coalition at this hour supporting Iraqi Security Forces as they push into remaining strongholds of Ramadi,” tweeted Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State.

Col. Warren tweeted a graphic that showed the locations of 12 airstrikes in Ramadi on Tuesday and across the country.

Iraqi spokesman Sabah al-Numan told The Associated Press that troops crossed the Euphrates River north of the city and its Warar tributary to the west and pushed into downtown Ramadi late Tuesday. From the south, troops led by the counterterrorism agency made progress in the Dubbat and Aramil neighborhoods, less than 2 miles from the city center, Gen. Ismail al-Mahallawi, the head of operations in Anbar province, told the AP.

Mr. al-Numan insisted that no “paramilitary: forces — the Shiite militias deeply distrusted in Sunni areas such as Anbar — were taking part in the operation.”

If the Islamic State flees Fallujah, which sits squarely in the middle the country with Baghdad to the east and Ramadi to the west, it has left fliers detailing what types of atrocities should be committed.

The document tells fighters to blow up mosques, torture and kill residents, and break into homes.

“We’re starting to see changes in behavior that may be signs of desperation,” Col. Warren told reporters at the Pentagon via a phone hookup.

The command released a translation of the Islamic State’s destruction order, which the terrorist group’s supporters on Twitter quickly labeled a fake.

“Construct all the mosques in Fallujah and Baiji with explosives and detonate it, film it, broadcast it as [if it were] revenge acts of Sunnis,” said one instruction.

“Bomb and detonate some area after letting the civilians to go inside it, film it and claim it as its PMF acts,” said another, using the acronym for government-allied Shiite militias taking part in the Ramadi assault. “Instruct the mujahedeen ‘holy fighters’ to dress similar to the PMF and [government troops] killing civilians; torture them and film them.”

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