More than 2,000 families flee Iraqi city of Ramadi as ISIL advances
BAGHDAD // More than 2,000 families have fled from the Iraqi city of Ramadi, an official said on Thursday, as ISIL advanced on the provincial capital of western Anbar province, clashing with Iraqi troops.
It came as the country’s prime minister Haider Al Abadi welcomed Iran’s assistance in the fight against ISIL, but warned Tehran to respect Baghdad’s sovereignty.
“Everything must be done through the government of Iraq,” Mr Al Abadi told an audience of US policy experts in Washington.
Mr Al Abadi was on the third day of a visit to the United States, aimed at bolstering Washington’s support for his fledgling government as it battles the extremist group.
Washington says Iranian officers provided advice and artillery to Shiite militias involved in the operation to retake the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS) group in recent weeks.
“We welcome the Iranian government’s support for us,” said Mr Al Abadi, speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank. But, “Iraqi sovereignty is of utmost importance”, he insisted.
The Iraqi prime minister met with US president Barack Obama on Tuesday, having said that he intended to ask for a “marked increase” in heavy weapons for his forces to repel ISIL.
On Thursday, Mr Al Abadi told his audience that he had come to Washington with a shopping list of weapons, and had received assurances that a number of F16 planes would be delivered on time.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US hit back at Mr Al Abadi on Wednesday night for comments in which he criticised the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen.
Asked earlier in the day about Iranian efforts to broker a peace deal for Yemen, Mr Al Abadi said: “From what I understand from the (Obama) administration, the Saudis are not helpful on this. They don’t want a ceasefire now.”
But the Saudi ambassador, Adel Al Jubeir, said he had not heard any US criticism of the operation.
“I don’t know how the Iraqi prime minister got to that assessment. But I would think the Iraqis should really focus on the problems that are in their own country,” Mr Al Jubeir said.
That same day, three Iraqi villages had been captured by ISIL on the eastern outskirts of Ramadi. The group’s latest advance is widely seen as a counteroffensive after the extremists lost the city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, earlier this month.
Hundreds of US troops are training Iraqi forces at a military base west of Ramadi, but a US military official said the current fighting has had no impact on American soldiers there, and that there were no plans to withdraw them.
Sattar Nowruz, from the Iraqi ministry of migration and the displaced, said those fleeing Ramadi have settled in southern and western suburbs of Baghdad.
Tents, food and other aid are being sent to them, he said. The ministry is also assessing the situation with the provincial government in order “to provide the displaced people, who are undergoing difficult conditions, with better services and help”.
Sporadic clashes were still underway on Thursday. Government forces control the city centre, while ISIL has had a presence in the suburbs and outskirts for months. Security officials in Ramadi described the provincial capital as a ghost town, with empty streets and closed shops.
US-led coalition airstrikes targeted ISIL in Sjariyah, Albu-Ghanim and Soufiya, the three villages captured on Wednesday.
Anbar’s deputy governor Faleh Al Issawi described the situation in Ramadi as “catastrophic” and urged the central government to send reinforcements.
“We urge the Baghdad government to supply us immediately with troops and weapons in order to help us prevent the city from falling into the hands of the IS group,” he said, referring to the group by its self-declared acronym.
Al Bayan, ISIL’s English-language radio station, claimed the fighters were in complete control of at least six areas and most of a seventh to the east of Ramadi since Wednesday, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a US group that monitors militant websites.
* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse
Updated: April 16, 2015 04:00 AM