ISIS Takes Control Of Ramadi, Key Iraqi City

ISIS Takes Control Of Ramadi, Key Iraqi City

9:00am May 18, 2015

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This is not good. The significant Iraqi city of Ramadi fell over the weekend to the group calling itself the Islamic State. Witnesses say Iraqi troops fled. That is just one news item, though, in the fight against ISIS. And we're going to talk about it with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, who's in our studios. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What happened in Ramadi?

BOWMAN: Well, simply put, you don't have a reliable Iraqi army. And the U.S. isn't willing to put American forces on the ground. The U.S. does have trainers working with the Iraqis, but it appears they don't have very good leadership and this whole thing just fell apart. Now, Shia militias have arrived there to help in the fight as they did up in Tikrit, but that could, you know, harm the ethnic tensions in the country, particularly in this largely Sunni area. Here's another problem, Steve - there are restrictions placed on American pilots who do these airstrikes there. There's a concern about civilian casualties, but the pilots have to go through a number of approvals before they get - you know, before they can mount an airstrike. They say they're being micromanaged, so that adds to this problem here.

INSKEEP: Which - you're hitting on some of the problems here. The United States is conducting airstrikes, but you're saying these are limited in such a way that limits their effectiveness on the ground. The United States is trying to support Iraq as a country, but you have Sunnis, as well as Shias, and this is a majority Sunni area. But the Shias are the ones with the forces that have been effective.

BOWMAN: That's right. They were effective up in Tikrit, as you'll remember. And now they're moving en masse into Anbar to help in this fight.

INSKEEP: Can this make sense?

BOWMAN: Well, again, it's - there are numerous problems in this country. The ethnic tensions haven't ended at all. They're only going to increase. Americans are going to have to mount more airstrikes. They have mounted more just in the past 72 hours - 19 more airstrikes in Anbar province - but this is all going to take a lot of time.

INSKEEP: To many Americans, Ramadi may just be a name, another name of a city. Can you remind us how significant it is that this particular city would be captured?

BOWMAN: Well, a lot of Americans died and were wounded winning back this city back during the Iraq War. It's the capital of Anbar Province. It was a center of the Sunni insurgency. And I was there back in 2006 and 2007 when they started what was called the Sons of Iraq program...

INSKEEP: Oh yeah.

BOWMAN: ...Pulling in Sunni fighters to work with the government. That worked quite well for a time. But then-President Nouri al-Maliki turned his back on the program and the Sunnis themselves.

INSKEEP: The prime minister at the time.

BOWMAN: That's right. And then what happened was it allowed ISIS to come back in, and they found support in that community.

INSKEEP: And now it's ISIS that has a chance, if it can, to get recruits out of a city like Ramadi. This, though, is not the only news about ISIS. Is this disaster balanced at all by the fact that the United States Special Forces were able to go into Syria and kill an Islamic State leader?

BOWMAN: It's not balanced by that at all. This guy was, you know, head of their oil effort. He was - worked with their - you know, with hostages and so forth, but he could be easily replaced. But one good thing they did find here was some computers, some cell phones that they can exploit to try to go after other leaders, other members of ISIS, so you could see more raids in the future.

INSKEEP: And more raids across the border into Syria as well?

BOWMAN: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: OK, Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, speaking with us on this Monday after the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to forces aligned with the group that calls itself the Islamic State. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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