x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 September 2017

Iraqi forces repel third ISIL attack east of Ramadi

Also on Thursday, Russia offered visiting Iraq military aid during a visit by prime minister Haider Al Abadi, to help push back ISIL militants.

BAGHDAD // Iraqi forces said on Thursday they thwarted a third attempt by ISIL militants to break through their defensive lines east of the city of Ramadi overnight.

Police and pro-government Sunni fighters exchanged mortar and sniper fire with the insurgents across the new frontline in Husaiba Al Sharqiya, about halfway between Ramadi and a base where a counter-offensive to retake the city is being prepared.

Ramadi fell to the militants on Sunday in the most significant setback for Iraqi security forces in nearly a year, calling into question the US-led strategy to “degrade and destroy” the extremist group.

Iraq’s interior minister on Wednesday dismissed the police chief of Anbar province, over the performance of security forces during the ISIL takeover of Ramadi.

Mohammed Al Ghaban relieved Kadhim Al Fahdawi of his duties and appointed Major General Hadi Al Rzayej who is set to begin “reorganising the Anbar and Ramadi police”.

The militants are now seeking to consolidate their gains in the surrounding province of Anbar by pushing east towards the Habbaniya base where Iraqi security forces and Shiite paramilitaries are massing.

“Daesh is desperately trying to breach our defences but this is impossible now,” police major Khalid Al Fahdawi said, using ISIL’s Arabic acronym. “We have absorbed the shock and more reinforcements have reached the frontline. They tried overnight to breach our defences but they failed. Army helicopters were waiting for them.”

Habbaniya is one of only a few remaining pockets of government-held territory in Anbar, and lies between Ramadi and the town of Fallujah, which has been controlled by ISIL for more than a year.

Local officials say the militants want to join up the two towns and overrun the other remaining government holdouts, strung out along the Euphrates river valley and the border with Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Russia on Thursday offered visiting Iraqi prime minister Haidar Al Abadi military aid to help push back ISIL militants who have made further sweeping gains in both Iraq and Syria this week.

“We are expanding cooperation in the area of military technology,” Russian president Vladimir Putin said at the start of talks with Mr Abadi in the Kremlin.

Mr Al Abadi is on a diplomatic drive to rally support for tackling ISIL, travelling to Washington last month to boost defence aid, and now taking the same message to Moscow.

In going ahead with his visit to Moscow despite the worsening security crisis, Mr Al Abadi said he had wanted to underline the importance of his country’s ties with Russia.

“We highly value relations with Russia and think they have a lot of potential,” Mr Al Abadi said after meeting his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev.

Earlier on Thursday, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would make every effort to help Iraq defeat ISIL.

Mr Lavrov said, according to Russian news wires, that Moscow would try to meet Iraqi demands for weapons to the maximum, “to help ensure their capability to chase the ISIL and other terrorists from their territory”.

Russia last year delivered Mi-28 attack helicopters to the Iraqi military for use against the insurgents.

* Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press