Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is boosting its presence in Iraq’s restive Al-Anbar province in a bid to turn Baghdad’s attention away from the liberation of Mosul, a senior Iraqi military commander said on Wednesday.
The senior Iraqi military officer, who spoke on the condition that his name and rank would not be disclosed, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the battle for Mosul, which government forces are presently gearing up for, would be “critical” to the defeat ISIS. Mosul, the provincial capital of neighboring Nineveh governorate, has been under ISIS control since June.
“We can say that the fate of ISIS is tied to the result of the battle of Mosul, more than any other battle, whether in Iraq or Syria,” the officer said.
He added that ISIS has been increasingly trying to secure its hold on Iraq’s westernmost province, due to its strategically important location, particularly given that it borders Syria.
“Although ISIS has suffered heavy losses during the recent fighting, it has been able to continue to advance due to the assistance that it receives from Syrian territory, which includes arms that surpass those of the Iraqi army and tribal forces,” the Iraqi commander said.
Although a number of local Sunni tribes are fighting ISIS in Anbar, the group’s manpower and arms have allowed them to keep hold of territory in the province, and even take control of more areas. The Albunimr tribe, which has been fighting ISIS in Anbar and Nineveh over the past year, have complained of a lack of government support for the battle against ISIS in the western province.
Albunimr tribal chief Sheikh Naim Kaoud issued a statement on Tuesday in which he claimed at least 5,000 members of his tribe, including women and children, are facing a humanitarian crisis after being besieged by jihadist fighters northeast of Ramadi. Kaoud said that they were facing shortages of water and medical supplies, and warned that the situation was deteriorating because of the siege imposed by ISIS, which has lasted for three months so far.
Abu Akram Al-Namrawi, a senior member of the Albunimr tribe, criticized what he said was Baghdad’s failure to respond to the siege of his tribe, and its wider failure to effectively combat ISIS in Anbar.
“We have heard promises of military assistance for months to no avail. As for promises of food and medicine, everybody is deceiving us, whether the government, or politicians or [tribal] sheikhs,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.