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IS Militants Pound Anbar Capital Perimeter


With Islamic State militants launching a fierce offsensive, people leave their hometown Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, April 16, 2015.

Islamic State militants pounded the Iraqi government's security compound Thursday in the center of Anbar province's capital, Ramadi, as the governor calls for reinforcements and arms. Iraqi media report that government forces have lost part of Iraq's largest oil refinery in the town of Beiji, north of Baghdad.

Islamic State militants mounted waves of attacks on Ramadi's heavily fortified security zone overnight and into the day Thursday, using suicide car bombs against defenders of the city center.

Al-Arabiya TV reported that the government deployed a Shi'ite volunteer militia unit called the Sarayat al-Salam, or “peace brigade,” to secure a key road used to supply government forces. Anbar council member Salah Fehdawi, however, warned that Ramadi was in danger of falling.

Ramadi, Iraq
Ramadi, Iraq

Request for help

Provincial Governor Souheib al-Rawi also pleaded with both the Iraqi government and neighboring states to help prevent Anbar province from falling into the hands of Islamic State militants.

He urged everyone to help those forces defending the city in fending off the bitter attacks by Islamic State militants, calling on the central government, religious leaders and those in positions of power to intervene quickly to arm tribal fighters defending Ramadi.

The head of the Anbar provincial council, Sabah al-Karhout, said the central government was not doing enough to help defend Ramadi.

He says the conflict against Islamic State exceeds our capabilities, given that the militants are receiving outside support and financing.

Iraqi military spokesman General Saad Maan told state TV, however, that the government was sending all the reinforcements it could to help in the battle for Anbar province.

US support

Meanwhile, in Washington, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said that the United States was ready to offer support to local Shi'ite militias provided they were under Baghdad's control. Not all of them are, and those who aren't would not receive support, he added.

What is important, is that all forces acting againt Islamic State militants in Iraq be under the control of the Iraqi government, Carter said Thursday speaking at his first Pentagon press conference as U.S. defense chief.

Carter spoke two days after President Barack Obama pledged $205 million in new humanitarian aid to Iraq but did mention providing additional weapons or military support sought by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi duuring his visit to Washington earlier this week.

Additionally, Carter said al-Qaida in the Arabian Penninsula "does show determination to not only fight on the ground in Yemen ... but also to strike in the United States."

Fleeing families

Iraq's Al-Sharqiya TV reported that hundreds of families had fled at least two Ramadi neighborhoods, amid the onslaught of Islamic State militants. Baghdad's security operations chief insisted on state TV that “all refugees will be allowed to enter the capital, Baghdad.”

Iraqi media also reported that Islamic State militants had captured parts of the country's main oil refinery in Beiji, 80 kilometers north of Baghdad. Amateur video showed plumes of black smoke rising over the city, after the militants set fire to trenches filled with oil to hinder government air attacks.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, told VOA the Iraqi government has been slow to request a Sunni “national guard” be set up to defend Anbar province.

"The Sunnis in Anbar have been demanding the creation of a Sunni national guard. I don't think the government in Baghdad views this matter favorably," said Khashan. "The government feels it's premature. To create a national guard represents a major concession to the Sunnis. I don't think the government is willing to make that concession right now."

Khashan added the United States expressed its displeasure to the Iraqi government about the behavior of Shi'ite militia units during the liberation of Tikrit last month. He also argues that developments in the conflict in Yemen have “slowed down the battle to defeat Islamic State” in both Iraq and Syria.

VOA's Jeff Seldin contributed to this report from the Pentagon.