After a long fight, soldiers put the Iraqi flag over a key government compound in Ramadi, a city not far from Baghdad that had been overrun by ISIS militants. The fight is ongoing — there may still be militants waiting to fight back in the outskirts of the city — but Iraqi military leaders say that a majority of Ramadi is now under government control.
The Iraqi soldiers liberating the city were helped by U.S. airstrikes — more than 600 since the summer. On Sunday, there were three airstrikes in Ramadi, per the New York Times. The U.S. military spokesperson in Baghdad said in a statement, “The clearance of the government center is a significant accomplishment and is the result of many months of hard work … Today’s success is a proud moment for Iraq.”
The branch of the Iraqi military tasked with working with the international coalition fighting ISIS added, “The flag is flying now to write a new history, and with the grace of God, the rest of the cities will be liberated.”
Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi gave a televised address on Monday celebrating the victory — even though the military has yet to take back the entire city. “2016 will be the year of the big and final victory, when [ISIS]’s presence in Iraq will be terminated,” he said, adding, “We are coming to liberate Mosul and it will be the fatal and final blow.”
State TV footage showed that many of the buildings in the city were massively damaged by the fight, and soldiers have been slow to enter the government complex, fearing that it may be laced with explosives — or hiding a few remaining suicide bombers. Ramadi was first taken by ISIS in May, which was a major setback for the Iraqi military — and the morale of all living in the country. The Times notes that losing Ramadi means that ISIS will have a harder time getting supplies to Fallujah, which Iraq lost control of last year — making it hard for ISIS to keep that city too.
Although the likely victory in Ramadi might lift spirits in the region, “the fight there is far from over,” one U.S. military official told NBC News. “Iraqi forces may still face heavy fighting within the next few days.” Ramadi will also have to be rebuilt so that those forced to flee from it are able to return; ISIS is notorious for its inability to provide services for those living in territory it controls, which means that the undamaged parts of the city are probably in rough shape too. Not only that, but it also seems likely that ISIS will keep trying to storm the city for the near future, determined to retake what they are losing right now.
Next, the Iraqi military might try to retake Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq — and one that is surrounded by oil fields that greatly boost ISIS’s coffers. The people who live there are miserable. One person told The Guardian, “Mosul has become like a big prison and people appear to be sedated with the hope that one day things will change.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, “Mosul is the largest city under Islamic State control and is home to thousands of civilians who can be used as human shields in the event of an offensive.”
In a smaller symbolic victory against ISIS, plans to build replicas of the Palmyra arch, an ancient monument in Syria that still stands despite repeated attempts to destroy it, in New York and London in April have been announced, per The Guardian. The replicas — the New York one will be erected in Times Square — will be built as part of World Heritage Week.
Meanwhile, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released a message this weekend — his first since this spring. He said, “our state is doing well” and “the more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets.”
As Iraq cheers its victory, things are getting increasingly messy in Afghanistan. The Washington Post reported this weekend that “top Afghan and American officials have begun to voice increasingly grim assessments of the resurgent Taliban threat … With control of — or a significant presence in — roughly 30 percent of districts across the nation, according to Western and Afghan officials, the Taliban now holds more territory than in any year since 2001.” On Sunday, at least one person was killed and 33 more were injured — including many children — after a suicide attack near the Kabul airport. Six U.S. soldiers were killed by a suicide attack at Bagram air base last week; attackers also hit a guesthouse at the Spanish embassy in Kabul.