The recent fall of Ramadi has been cast in symbolic, strategic and often human terms. Recent comparisons, though, really strike into the gravity of armed combat.
Sunni brigades of the Iraqi Army melted under an apparently withering assault from Islamic State fighters over this past weekend. The attack came as a sandstorm swept over the city, blocking air support.
Then came the ISIS car bombs.
Eric Schmitt of The New York Times reports that retreating Iraqi troops were visibly “physically and psychologically traumatized,” once they reached friendly lines:
The Ramadi offensive involved 30 car bombs, including 10 that were each roughly the size of those in the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people, and that “took out entire city blocks” in Ramadi, the State Department official said.
So we’ve got terrible air and visibility conditions, captured American Humvees outfitted to be block-leveling bombs, and swarms of savage ISIS fighters pouring into the city, attacking strategic outposts and government headquarters buildings.
The Times and other outlets now report that American and Iraqi officials are consolidating what’s left of those routed Iraqi brigades. They’re also outfitting them with 1,000 American-made AT-4 anti-armor rockets to destroy the American-made Humvees ISIS is using to spearhead their assaults.
Ramadi is more than just the capital of Iraq’s once most restive Western province, it represents a key link in the supply chain that feeds war from Syria, into Fallujah and eventually the knock on Baghdad’s door.
While Washington re-organizes some kind of Iraqi response, the idea of using Iran-backed Shia militias has been floated as a possible response. That strategy has its own drawbacks.
“The exposure that creates throughout the rest of Iraq is enormous,” Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo told radio personality Hugh Hewitt Wednesday. “It is a symptom of a failure to develop a strategy that at all pushes back on the threat of ISIS in a material way, and leaves, frankly, the playing field wide open for the Iranians to continue their advance throughout Iraq as well.”
Meanwhile, U.S. troops who served sometimes several tours in Ramadi lament the loss of a city that went from being the most dangerous in Iraq to the most safe, all in a few short years.
“It breaks my heart,” Marine Gen. John Kelly told Hope Hodge Seck of Marine Corps Times. “I’ve got over two years of my life in Ramadi and Anbar province. As a senior commander once and as a second senior commander once, I got hundreds of young Americans either killed or wounded under my command.”