by: Patrick Martin and ISW Iraq Team
The ISF launched a major operation to encircle Ramadi city from the north and west on October 7. The objective was to cut ISIS's supply lines between Ramadi and Hit. The operation also positioned ISF units and tribal fighters for continued attacks on Ramadi, the main effort of the ISF since July. ISF and tribal fighters under the Anbar Operations Command assumed positions north of the city, while those under the Babil Operations Command took to the west. Coalition and Iraqi airstrikes are ongoing nearby, while clashes continue between ISIS and other ISF units in the Anbar University campus south of Ramadi.
It is unclear if the ISF will be able to hold these areas, as previous attempts to encircle Ramadi failed after short term gains. The Olympic Stadium in 7 Kilo area west of Ramadi, cleared on October 4, had been cleared previously on July 13, indicating that ISIS returned in the interim. In addition, the ISF has been unable to approach Ramadi city from the east. Federal Police continue to clash with ISIS in the eastern Husayba area without signs of significant progress. These obstacles indicate the challenges ahead for the ISF in its largest urban operation since the ISF recaptured Tikrit on April 1, 2015.
The ability of the ISF to recapture Ramadi with US-led Coalition air support is necessary for PM Haidar al-Abadi to demonstrate his independence from Iranian proxy militias who seek to undermine the sovereignty of the Iraqi state. The proxy militias have thus far had no role in the Ramadi operations since they refocused their efforts from Ramadi to Salah al-Din on May 26, 2015 as part of their independent “Labayk Ya Hussein” operation. The success of the ISF operation to recapture Anbar’s provincial capital is also important for the U.S. to demonstrate why it is the essential partner to the Iraqi state. Russia is trying to usurp the US's role as the leading anti-ISIS partner in Iraq and elsewhere; Russia will share this status with Iran and curb PM Abadi's independence. A failure to secure Ramadi would undoubtedly increase the amount of pressure on PM Abadi to reduce his reliance on the U.S.-led Coalition in favor of Russia and Iran.