by Patrick Martin
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) reportedly recaptured the government complex in central Ramadi on December 28 after clearing ISIS-held areas south of the complex on December 26 and 27. The ISF also reported that the 10th Iraqi Army Division and units attached to it recaptured the Ramadi Barrage in western Ramadi on December 26. ISW is thus changing the status of these areas to “Contested.” ISIS likely can no longer field a cohesive military defense in Ramadi and its main elements have likely retreated to the ISIS-held eastern suburbs of the city, such as the areas of al-Sufiyah and al-Sijariyah.
The ISF has not yet cleared Ramadi of ISIS, however. The ISF has not yet reported entering, contesting, or clearing certain structures such as the Justice Palace and the Grand Mosque, and ISW has therefore left some areas in downtown Ramadi marked as “ISIS controlled.” The ISF likewise have not entered a number of neighborhoods in northern Ramadi, IEDs remain emplaced throughout the city, and there are possibly pockets of resistance from remaining ISIS fighters. Clearing operations are still required both in the city center and in Ramadi’s environs. The ISF continue to conduct clearing operations in areas north of the city center, while operations are still required to clear ISIS pockets from the areas between Ramadi and the Habaniya base, east of Ramadi. ISW therefore assesses that Ramadi remains contested, though with a heavy ISF presence that has the initiative and momentum. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s congratulation to Iraq on recapturing the city, however, indicates that the full clearance of the city is within the ISF’s grasp.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared that the ISF’s next objective will be recapturing Mosul. It will be extremely difficult for the ISF to clear Mosul successfully in the near future, however. The Mosul counteroffensive requires large forces to succeed. It also requires adjudication among the competing interests of the Iraqi government, the Peshmerga, Sunni politicians, and Iranian proxy groups, all of whom have interests in the composition of the forces that recapture Mosul. ISF deployment away from Ramadi in order to set conditions for Mosul operations would likely reduce the forces available to secure Ramadi and its environs, creating opportunities for ISIS. ISIS will continue launching attacks both on Ramadi and along the Euphrates River Valley, while also conducting spectacular and localized attacks along the Tigris River and in Diyala Province in order to divert the ISF’s resources and attention.