Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraqi security forces have freed thousands of students and staff from Anbar University, following an attack on its campus in Ramadi by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters on Saturday.
Reports said armed men blew up the university security center and the bridge which linked the university to the city of Ramadi, before attacking the campus.
Clashes erupted when security forces, supported by police, launched an attack on the insurgents, including the use of helicopters to target ISIS snipers dug in on the top of buildings around the university.
Faris Ibrahim, a lecturer at the university and member of the Sons of Iraq Council, said: “The insurgents held around 5,000 students captive at the university before security forces freed them. They besieged the insurgents whose aim was now clear, which is to undermine confidence in the authorities and show the situation in Anbar and Iraq is unstable.”
Moutazz Mouhyedine Abdelrahman, security expert and director of the Republican Center for Strategic Studies in Baghdad, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Observers of the operations carried out by Al-Qaeda and ISIS recently noted that these operations are a show of force which aim to achieve a number of objectives at the same time, especially that they carried similar operations in the months leading up to the Anbar operations in areas such as the Hamrin Mountains, the Tikrit suburbs, Suleiman Beg and Tharthar.”
He added: “These operations, in addition to being a show of force by ISIS . . . [involve] sending forces to distant and sensitive areas, in order to weaken the government’s resolve and prove to the Iraqi forces that ISIS was on high alert.”
In another development, the overall commander of Iraq’s Land Forces, Lt. Gen. Ali Ghaidan, took command of military operations against ISIS in Nineveh governorate on Saturday, after ISIS seized control of four residential areas in the city of Mosul 252 miles (405 kilometers) north of Baghdad on Friday, leading to a mass exodus of residents from the area.
Security and medical sources said 59 men were killed from both sides on Saturday in the clashes in Mosul.
According to officials, the attacks followed a bloody day in which at least 36 people were killed in clashes and suicide attacks in and around the city.
A security source said: “ISIS insurgents use residents as human shields and target security forces in these areas to give the world the impression the army was targeting civilians. These are criminals but we will win the battle after the arrival of military reinforcements.”
Meanwhile, Nineveh governor Atheel Al-Nujaifi, said: “There are dozens of casualties among security forces and the civilians, and ISIS fighters numbered around 400 members armed with heavy weapons and advanced sniper weapons.”
Meanwhile, in Diyala, 37 miles (60 kilometers) east of Baghdad, police claimed to have foiled an attempt by ISIS to attack the national intelligence and investigations directorate in the center of Baaquba.
Diyala police chief Maj. Gen. Jamil Al-Shammari said in a news conference on Saturday: “Security forces killed five suicide bombers and dismantled five booby-trapped vehicles during an attempt to attack the national intelligence and investigations directorate to free ISIS leaders who were held in the building.”