Tribal fighters gather to retake Ramadi from Isil
Thousands of Shia militiamen and Sunni tribal fighters were gathering outside Ramadi last night, vowing to reverse the Iraqi army's humiliating defeat by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and retake the city.
Militias from the so-called Popular Mobilisation Committees, a grouping of largely Shia, pro-Iran groups, were called up by the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, as the army fled on Sunday.
They had been held back previously because of fears of sectarian clashes with residents and tribes in the city, the capital of the Sunni heartland province of Anbar.
According to local media, at least 3,000 fighters had gathered by yesterday morning at the former British RAF base of Habbaniyah, now an Iraqi army holdout in the province, most of which is under the control of Isil.
Thousands of Sunni tribesman were also gathering west of the city. The Sunni tribes have been split between support for the government and backing for their co-religionists in Isil.
The arrival of a large number of Sunni fighters will make it easier for the US to justify continuing air support for the pro-government forces even as they are joined by pro-Iran militias.
"As of today, we are supporting the Iraqi security forces and the government of Iraq with precision air strikes and advice to the Iraqi forces," a spokesman for the US State Department said last night.
"It is important to retake Ramadi and we are confident that Ramadi will be retaken."
US State Department and Pentagon officials said the deployment of the Shia militias was acceptable "so long as they are under the command of the army".
"If you look at the popular mobilisation forces, the decision by the Anbari leadership and tribes to support their coming into Anbar to help retake Ramadi is an important step," the spokesman added.
The battle to retake Ramadi will once again put Iran and America on the same side, despite historic mutual hostility.
The fall of the city at the weekend, despite months of resistance, was further evidence that pushing back Isil requires both countries, as well as the Iraqi army, to cooperate. (© Daily Telegraph, London)