US questions ISIS's Ramadi takeover claims

2015-05-18 06:00
(Mohammed Huwais, AFP)

(Mohammed Huwais, AFP)

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Washington - The Pentagon said on Sunday the situation in Ramadi, which ISIS militants claim to have seized from Iraqi forces, remains "fluid and contested" and it is following reports of continued violence in the strategic city.

"We're continuing to monitor reports of tough fighting in Ramadi and the situation remains fluid and contested," Pentagon spokesperson Maureen Schumann told AFP in a statement.

"It is too early to make definitive statements about the situation on the ground there at this time," she added.

The Islamic State group said earlier on Sunday it had taken full control of the Iraqi city after a bloody assault, in a statement posted on jihadist Internet forums.

After the claim, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered government forces to "hold their positions" in Ramadi, capital of Iraq's largest province of Anbar.

He called on troops, tribesmen and other elite forces to push the Islamic State militants out of the city.

Pentagon spokesperson Elissa Smith told AFP that the flashpoint city has long been fought over and that the Islamic State group appeared to be gaining ground in the latest bout of fighting.

"Ramadi has been contested since last summer and ISIL now has the advantage. We have always known the fight would be long and difficult, particularly in Anbar," Smith told AFP.

"We continue to support with air power and advice to the Iraqi forces," Smith added.

'Propaganda boost'

The United States warned two months ago that Ramadi could fall, said Smith, adding that losing the city now does not mean it will remain in ISIS hands.

"The loss of Ramadi does not mean the tide of the campaign has turned, and we have long said that there would be ebbs and flows on the battlefield," she said, adding that taking the town would merely be a "propaganda boost" for the group.

"If lost, that just means the coalition will have to support Iraqi forces to take it back later."

Losing Ramadi, about 100km west of the capital, could be one of Baghdad's worst setbacks since it began a nationwide offensive last year to reclaim territory taken over by ISIS jihadists in June 2014.

Two days of violence in Ramadi has displaced at least 8 000 people, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

A local spokesperson said some 500 people, both civilians and military, were killed in the jihadist offensive and Washington condemned the reports of violence against civilians.

"In the past days, ISIL has displayed trademark brutality as reports of murder of civilians," Smith said, using an alternate acronym for ISIS militants.

Read more on:    isis  |  iraq  |  us  |  security

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