50 Iraqi troops killed by ISIS in volatile Anbar, official says operations going ‘according to plan'

Iraqi security forces stand with an Islamist State flag which they pulled down at the University of Anbar, in Anbar province © Stringer
Scores of Iraqi soldiers have died at the hands of Islamic State in two deadly ambushes in Anbar province, a top provincial official said. The restive region has long been a flashpoint of fighting, where the terrorists are largely in control.

Sabah al-Karhout, speaking to AP on Saturday, didn’t divulge many details, saying only that the attack, which claimed up to 50 lives, took place on Friday just west of the provincial capital of Ramadi. This is a key city to the west of Baghdad besieged by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), from which the Iraqi army retreated, leaving millions of dollars worth of American-supplied heavy weapons and equipment behind. They faced a torrent of criticism for this.

There was no immediate word from other authorities on the violence.

Forces stationed in the province continue to be on alert, and were instructed in a visit by Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi to proceed with “caution and precision,” so as to avoid “unjustified losses.”

Attempts are being made by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to expel the terrorists from Anbar, with the oil-producing town of Beiji, just north of Baghdad, seeing a lot of action. The militant group is battling its way toward the center, attempting to seize the oil refinery there. The town was liberated from the group last year, but it has been gaining momentum against the Iraqi army and Shiite militiamen lately.

“The operations in Anbar are going according to plans, but progress is slow, and the advances are halted by roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings,” al-Karhout told AP.

Volatile Anbar is also home to the overrun city of Fallujah, and Iraqi losses there have caused much political fallout, especially for the top brass in the armed forces. A statement on the defense ministry’s website recently announced the dismissal of a brigade commander in the province, alleging the dereliction of his duties.

"There is no place for those who neglect to carry out their missions and duties. Those who want victory must be on the front line," the minister stated.

Last year’s capture of Iraq's second biggest city, Mosul, by Islamic State remains a topic of embarrassment for the Iraqi army. A parliamentary panel has determined that former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and 35 senior government officials bear most of the responsibility for losing this key strategic location, which remains in the terrorists’ grip.

The fall of Mosul was a turning point in their June 2014 offensive. Its capture enabled the Islamist extremists to seize large swathes of territories in northwestern Iraq. Maliki has accused unnamed countries, commanders and rival politicians for the military disaster. He himself stands blamed for nepotism, escalating religious tensions and a series of other blunders.

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