Around 3,000 fighters from the Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units) have reportedly arrived in the capital of Iraq's Anbar Province, Ramadi, after the deputy head of the Anbar Provincial Council warned that the city could fall to Islamic State (IS) gunmen within hours.
IS gunmen launched a major assault on April 15 on areas to the northeast of Ramadi, overrunning several towns and villages. According to RFE/RL's correspondent in Iraq, at least 13 security forces personnel were killed during the attack, as Iraqi troops withdrew.
RFE/RL's correspondent in Iraq reported on April 16 that most of Ramadi -- around 80 percent -- was under IS control, apart from four districts in the center of the city, which include the city's main government buildings -- the provincial governor's office, the provincial council building, the police department, the intelligence department, and the department of education.
All civilian officials have left the area, but the chief of police and the commander of Anbar operations remained there with their officers, the correspondent said.
IS militants have attacked the government complex twice with car bombs. The first attack came at around midnight on April 15 and the second bombing came in the early morning on April 16. Four Iraqi police officers were killed in the blasts, RFE/RL's correspondent said.
Four groups of emergency support from Baghdad arrived in Ramadi on April 16 to support Iraqi forces, while Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Saraya al-Salam militia to join the fighting in Ramadi, the correspondent reported.
Earlier on April 16, Arab news outlets reported that Iraqi forces had arrived in the Al-Sajaria area east of Ramadi to join tribal forces who are battling IS militants in the provincial capital.
On April 15, CNN quoted Falih Essawi, the deputy head of Anbar's Provincial Council, as saying that security in Ramadi was "collapsing rapidly" and that urgent support from the Iraqi military and security forces was needed to save the city. "This is what we warned Baghdad was going to happen," Essawi told CNN.
Civilians Flee Ramadi As IS Advances
Reports indicate that IS has overrun parts or all of three villages to the north of Ramadi: Albu Ghanim, Sjariyah, and Soufiya. IS already controls areas to the south of Ramadi.
The IS onslaught in Ramadi has driven local residents out of their homes, with thousands of families leaving the city and trying to make their way to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and to Habbaniya, according to RFE/RL's correspondent.
Anbar Provincial Council deputy Essawi told CNN that at least 150,000 people had already fled since the morning of April 15. One local resident from Albu Ghanim who spoke to CNN as he and his family walked east to Baghdad said that four IS militants had entered his home and set up a sniper position on the roof.
There were unconfirmed reports on April 15 that IS had massacred a number of local residents, mostly in the Albu Ghanim area, where local tribal fighters had battled IS militants, RFE/RL's correspondent reported. Arabic news reports quoted unnamed local and security sources as saying that IS militants had threatened to kill civilians particularly in Albu Ghanim and Albu Faraj.
According to Arabic news reports, security and local sources in Anbar said that IS gunmen had blown up the home of the Iraqi electricity minister, Qassim Fahdawi, in northeast Ramadi, in a symbolic message to the Iraqi government.
IS militants have also planted booby traps and explosives in the homes of civilians who fled the fighting, the reports said.
Humanitarian Aid, Not Weapons
The IS advance into Ramadi came a day after U.S. President Barack Obama pledged $205 million in humanitarian aid to Iraq on April 14, but did not mention providing the additional military aid sought by Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.
During a meeting at the White House, Obama said Iraqi forces were better equipped and trained since Abadi's election last year, and that the United States was improving military coordination with Iraq to ensure the success of Iraqi troops against IS.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk