Iraqi forces massing to retake Ramadi as jihadists dig in

May 20, 2015 10:58
An Iraqi soldier carries a displaced child from Ramadi on the outskirts of Baghdad. Iraqi security forces have deployed tanks and artillery around Ramadi in preparation for a counter-offensive. Photo: Reuters

Islamist jihadists are tightening their grip on Ramadi after overrunning the key Iraqi city on Sunday in a devastating blow to United States-backed defenders.

Iraqi security forces are trying to retake the city, deploying tanks and artillery around it, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Shi'ite militiamen allied to the Iraqi army have advanced to a nearby base in preparation for a counterattack.

A local government official urged Ramadi residents to join the police and the army.

The White House said a US-led air campaign will back multi-sectarian Iraqi forces in their counter-offensive on Ramadi, whose fall exposed the limits of US air power in its battle against the radical self-declared Islamic State.

"The United States will be very supportive of multi-sectarian efforts who are taking command-and-control orders from the Iraqi central government," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in Washington.

The US is anxious that the Shi'ite militia are controlled by the Iraqi authorities rather than Iranian advisers.

Also, it is worried that the fighting in Iraq will become a polarizing clash between Shi'ites and Sunnis.

The Islamist extremists set up defensive positions and laid landmines, witnesses said.

They were also going house to house searching for members of the police and armed forces.

The group has promised to set up courts based on Islamic Sharia law similar to those in other captured towns and cities.

They released about 100 prisoners from a Ramadi counter-terrorism detention center.

Saed Hammad al-Dulaimi, 37, a school teacher, said the jihadists used loudspeakers urging people who have relatives in prison to gather at the main mosque in the city center to pick them up.

"I saw men rushing to the mosque to receive their prisoners," he said.

The move could prove popular with residents who have complained that people are often subject to arbitrary detention.

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