The battle for Ramadi

Ibrahim Al-Marashi at Al Jazeera writes:

For Iraqis the year 2016 has been ushered in with their military’s capture of ISIL’s headquarters in Ramadi, capital of the nation’s Anbar province. In terms of what 2016 holds for the future, the military dynamics that led to the fall of Ramadi will serve as long-term harbinger of ISIL’s ability to endure in Iraq.

Upon first glance, the fall of Ramadi appears to mean little for the long term campaign against ISIL. The recent victory brings Iraq back to the status quo as of May 2015, when Iraqi forces took retook Tikrit from ISIL towards the end of April, but then lost Ramadi right after. It took the Iraqi forces several months to return to this status quo. Over all, the victory would appear as a loss, as the Iraqi state won back Ramadi, but utterly devastated the city in the process. 

However, in the long term perspective, the fall of Ramadi is a victory in terms of the lessons applied on the strategic-political level and the evolution of Iraqi military tactics, which signals a significant setback for ISIL.

He explains the importance:

Whereas the battle for Tikrit primarily featured irregular Shia militias, the battle for Ramadi involved the (ISF), along with irregular tribal Sunni levies. This was not so much a battle for a city, but a battle by the Iraqi state to project that it still has a national army, and is willing to work with the Sunni tribes. …

On another level, the role played by national Iraqi forces in the fall of Ramadi also has implications for the creation of an inclusive sense of Iraqiness. A debate has ensued since the summer of 2014 as to whether one can claim that the Iraqi nation still exists. …

With the fall of Ramadi, the Iraqi military, which is featured prominently on this channel, can now also claim that it represents the national aspirations of Iraq. Again any Iraqi will know that the nation is divided among Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militias. For the legitimacy of Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi, the Iraqi military’s victory in Ramadi is a testament of his ability to preside at the helm of what remains of the Iraqi state and nation. 

So the importance is this was not a battle won by Shia militia against Sunni insurgents. It was the Iraqi military against ISIL.

What remains to be seen after the fall of Ramadi is the ability of the Iraqi military to develop a doctrine, or a series of lessons learned in the fighting that can be carried forward in the battle for Mosul. A BBC article revealed that the Iraqi military has benefitted from a learning curve during the months-long campaign to remove ISIL from Ramadi.

The Iraqi insurgency that erupted from 2003 primarily used hit-and-run tactics against US and Iraqi forces, tactics typical of a guerilla war meant to wear down the resolve of the enemy. As a result, the US training mission had focused on ensuring Iraq’s new military could deal with this type of combat.

ISIL is different type of insurgent group, holding cities and territory, which required retraining the Iraqi military forces in sustained urban combat, fighting street-by-street, house-by-house.

This transformation of training the Iraqi military from counter-insurgency to urban combat explains why it took so long to be deployed on the front lines, creating a security vacuum which the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi Shia militias filled.  

And as the Herald reports, the troops fighting in Ramadi include those trained by the New Zealand Army:

Iraqi troops trained by the New Zealand Defence Force were part of a force that has retaken the city of Ramadi from the Islamic State (Isis) terrorist group.

Defence minister Gerry Brownlee said the success was a result of the commitment to the Building Partner Capacity training programme.

“New Zealand and Australian trainers can take some pride over the successful action by the recruits.

“NZDF trainers have gone into a dangerous environment and professionally established a training operation which is upskilling large numbers of Iraqi troops to better equip themselves to fight.

“New Zealanders can be very proud of the work our troops are doing to professionalise the Iraqi security forces,” Mr Brownlee said in a statement.

It is worth recalling that Labour said the training was pointless and NZ First called the Iraqi army cowards.

This is only one battle, and there will be many more battles and some setbacks. But as the author writes, this was very important psychologically, and a key building block. And New Zealand played a small part in giving the Iraqi people a better chance of not having to live under a fascist theological barbaric regime.

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