Iraq News

Iraqi forces prepare for western Anbar push

By Khalid al-Taie

Tribal fighters from the Upper Euphrates Brigade take part in a training session. [Photo from the Upper Euphrates Brigade Facebook page]

Tribal fighters from the Upper Euphrates Brigade take part in a training session. [Photo from the Upper Euphrates Brigade Facebook page]

Five hundred tribal combatants from the Upper Euphrates Brigade are preparing to drive the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) from its last remaining strongholds in westernmost Anbar province.

Late last year, members of the tribal force completed a basic training course at Ain al-Assad military base in al-Baghdadi district.

After successfully completing the training, taught by instructors from the international coalition, they were equipped with weapons and military vehicles in preparation for the upcoming battle.

Brigade commander Col. Moussa al-Karbouli told Diyaruna his fighters are ready.

"Our fighters are well prepared to fight alongside their brothers in the army forces and the police to take back their areas in the Upper Euphrates," he said.

The Upper Euphrates Brigade comprises fighters from at least 20 of west Anbar's tribes, al-Karbouli said, adding that they are "anxious to fight and defeat ISIL".

They are physically fit, he added, and have received training on the use of weapons, sharpshooting and urban warfare.

"We always seek to develop their abilities," he said.

The brigade is waiting for orders from senior military leadership, he said, "and until the zero hour comes, we will continue our preparations and training".

ISIL's crumbling defences

Anah, Rawa and al-Qaim are the last three major cities still under ISIL control in Anbar.

"The enemy does not possess the ability to defend these strongholds," al-Karbouli said. "The international coalition’s intensive air raids have destroyed its strength and supply lines and paralysed its movements."

Areas on the border strip with Syria are no longer a safe haven for ISIL, he said.

"The army and tribal forces are besieging them in the Anbar desert, and on the Syrian side, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are making progress in Deir Ezzor," he added.

On Sunday (April 9th), tribal forces manning a remote border crossing with Syria repelled a double suicide car bomb attack, with aerial support from the coalition.

The ISIL attack on al-Walid crossing was launched from the desert on the Iraqi side of the border shortly after midnight, AFP reported.

An Iraqi military officer and a local official from Anbar said the tribal fighters neutralised the two vehicles before they could reach the border position.

In addition to their crumbling defences, ISIL fighters are facing a growing strain on their finances , which is hampering their ability to conduct operations.

ISIL has lost most of the resources that brought it money, especially oil and antiquities.

"Trading in stolen goods is all they have left now," al-Karbouli said. "They have looted all state property and citizens’ homes , and even removed and sold the windows and doors of schools."

Mounting military pressure

Preparations are under way to liberate the cities of Anah, Rawa and al-Qaim, said Sheikh Qatari Kahlan al-Obeidi, an adviser to the governor of Anbar.

"The commander-in-chief of the armed forces [Haider al-Abadi] has instructed two military divisions -- the Federal Police’s 3rd Division and the 9th Armoured Division -- to take part in the battle to liberate those cities once the divisions complete their mission in the operations to retake Mosul," he told Diyaruna.

On April 4th, the police's 7th Division, with support from the tribes, launched a military operation to clear ISIL from the villages of al-Mudhim and Umm al-Waz south-west of Anah, al-Obeidi said.

The operation aims to eliminate the threat ISIL fighters pose to liberated villages and cities, especially al-Rutbah and Haditha.

The international coalition also is carrying out daily airstrikes targeting ISIL hideouts and weapons caches in the Upper Euphrates areas, he said.

The intensive bombing campaign "has thrown ISIL into confusion and rendered it incapable of mobilising large numbers of troops and carrying out large-scale attacks as it used to", al-Obeidi said.

Instead, the group has resorted to "hit-and-run" tactics, al-Rutbah mayor Imad Meshaal al-Dulaimi told Diyaruna.

"The airstrikes have caused it to refrain from taking fixed positions and to move in small convoys of no more than nine or 10 vehicles across a wider desert area around al-Rutbah, up to al-Qaim in the north," he said.

Al-Dulaimi stressed the need to enhance the desert monitoring systems.

"The desert area in Anbar takes up one third of Iraq’s territory, and retaking it in conventional ways is a serious burden," he said. "We must use drones and helicopters on a large scale."

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