The Islamic State (IS) has been driven out of the Ramadi city, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province bordering Syria, eight months after they seized it. The Iraqi government forces celebrated Ramadi’s liberation by firing shots in the air and publicly slaughtering sheep – which is not surprising as the Iraqi government forces had seemed to be incapable of fighting off the challenge of IS. Although US air strikes provided crucial support in Ramadi, at the ground level it was the Iraqi forces that powered the aggression, killing and forcing IS extremists to clear buildings and streets. Ultimately, it was the government complex where the IS extremists pitched themselves, but after weeks of constant attack, the Iraqi forces succeeded in killing or flushing them out and retaking the government complex.
Ramadi’s recapture marks a major reversal for the Islamic State. It also drives the point across to them that the Iraqi troops have improved their fighting techniques and can take them on in their offensive to retake Mosul and other cities of Iraq from them. The Iraqi troops, much like other armies, were trained in open warfare, not in city fighting. Battles in urban terrain provide a number of hiding places and shelters for the target forces, such as buildings, street corners, civilian shields. Unlike the jihadists and terrorists, government forces have also to be always taking care that their attack does not cause civilian casualties. First in Tikrit and then in Ramadi the battle against IS showed the lack of capability of the Iraqi forces in flushing the jihadists out. One of the estimates had put the number of jihadists at less than 1000 in Ramadi while the Iraqi troops number 10,000. The civilians of Ramadi had despaired of the capability of the Iraqi forces and fled the city. Prior to IS occupation, Ramadi had a civilian population of 450,000. In the months following IS seizure in May the population drooped to 75,000. The mass flight of the city’s residents was a telling commentary on the powerlessness of the Iraqi government troops.
But with recapture of the city the Iraqi troops have regained some of their prestige. They must fully regain their prestige by driving the jihadists out of Mosul, the largest city of Iraq under IS control. The fight is going to be much more difficult, though. Mosul had pre-IS civilian population of 10 lakh, which is now reduced to 6 lakh. But 6 lakh is still a very large and dense population. Tikrit was virtually depopulated and hence US forces could carry out airstrikes without causing civilian casualties. Ramadi proved problematic for airstrikes without civilian casualties. Fighting in Mosul would be even more difficult. Airstrikes might not be available for support to the Iraqi government troops. As the experience so far shows, IS jihadists try to mix with and hide behind civilians, so it becomes very difficult to detect and target them. While the jihadists fight from behind covered positions they would plant booby traps, IEDs and bombs in houses and cars. The Iraqi forces will have to move ahead very cautiously. It is going to be a street to street and house to house fight.
No matter how difficult, no matter what it takes, IS must be fought until it is defeated, for it represents an ideology that makes Islam look like no better than savagery. A year after IS captured Mosul, they have forced women to cover up their bodies, including hands with gloves. The husbands of women found without cover are punished according to the group’s extreme interpretation of Islamic law. Those doing any activity in prayer time are given lashes. Mosques have been blown up and schools closed. The IS has replaced the imams in the mosques with pro-IS people. Those attending prayers at mosques are asked to give an oath of allegiance to Islamic State and their “caliph” Abu-Bakr Baghdadi. The schools that are open are teaching Islamic State’s ideology. The organisation is planting seeds of violence, hate and sectarianism into schoolchildren’s minds. According to IS, everything that people used to do is ‘haram’ (forbidden). Even simple leisure activities like picnics are banned in Mosul. The minimum punishment under the ‘Laws of the Caliphate’ is flogging, which is applied for ‘crimes’ like cigarette smoking. Theft is punished by amputating a hand, adultery by men by throwing the offender from a high building, and adultery by women by stoning to death. The punishments are carried out in public to intimidate people, who are often forced to watch. Homes belonging to Mosul’s ethnic and religious minority communities such as Christians have been confiscated by Islamic State. Many residential areas once popular with minorities now stand empty. The sooner Iraq, and the world, gets rid of Islamic State, the better.