While the world’s attention has focused on Islamic State advances against the besieged Syrian town of Kobani, reports over the past several days warn that the group is also on the verge of overrunning Iraq’s western Anbar Province.
Analysts say that if Islamic State does succeed in overrunning Anbar, it could shift its forces to reinforce the areas around the capital, Baghdad, and prepare to attack that city.
On October 10, Iraqi Electricity Minister and former Anbar Governor, Qasim Mohammad al-Fahdawi, said that Islamic State now controls more than 80 percent of Anbar, with the rest under the control of the Iraqi Army and tribal leaders, according to several reports.
Fahdawi warned that the situation in Anbar was “very critical” and said that the province needs extra assistance or the provincial capital, Ramadi, which is 130 kilometers miles from Baghdad, could fall.
Local officials and Anbar’s Tribal Council have also warned that Ramadi could soon fall. One tribal sheik, Ahmed Abu Risha, told "The Washington Post" that “all of the areas around Ramadi are controlled by the Islamic State.”
An RFE/RL correspondent in Anbar reported that there had been clashes on October 8 in the western, central, and northern sections of Ramadi, including in rural areas across the river. The correspondent added that there had been “numerous air strikes accompanied by large explosions” in the city. The U.S. Central Command said in a statement that several Islamic State targets had been destroyed in the air strikes.
Anbar’s Tribal Council said that Anbar Province would be overrun by Islamic State unless more support is provided by Baghdad. Asharq Alawsat on October 9 quoted Tribal Council member Faris Ibrahim as saying that the security situation in Anbar was “going from bad to worse."
Ibrahim blamed Iraq’s military leadership for being “unable to devise new plans to address [Islamic State] advances on the ground."
According to the Institute for the Study of War, Islamic State’s campaign in Anbar is closely linked to its offensive in the “Baghdad Belts” -- the residential, agricultural, and industrial areas surrounding the Iraqi capital.
“If [Islamic State] can consolidate its core strength in Anbar, then its reinforcements that are currently augmenting attacks in this zone will likely shift to reinforce the northern and southern Baghdad Belts and prepare to attack the capital,” the institute wrote in a blog post.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk