Iraqi Forces Reclaim Town of Rutbah From Islamic State

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On Friday, May 20, 2016, United States (U.S.) military officials announced that Iraqi forces reclaimed the town of Rutbah from the Islamic State (IS).

Rutbah is a small town lying 240 west of Baghdad, in the southwestern Anbar province, but held strategic significance as a key IS supply line route along the road from Baghdad to Amman and the Mosul to the Haifa oil Pipeline.  Rutbah was captured by IS in June 2014 shortly after Mosul, and the surrounding deserts around the city were used as IS training camps.  Rutbah has long been a region of smugglers and jihadists, and was utilized as an al-Qaeda outpost during the U.S. occupation. Iraqi explosive ordinance specialists identified at least  two IED factories and a car bomb plant in Rutbah prior to the city’s liberation.

Prior to the Iraq War, Rutbah saw $1 billion in revenue come through the region annually. U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren noted that the liberation of Rutbah was “critical to the economies of Iraq and Jordan.” Brigadier General Yahya Rasoul claimed that taking Rutbah hits IS hard as it is where the enemy lived and trained.

Iraqi forces were reportedly surprised by the lack of resistance the IS put up, and Brigadier General Abdul Ameer al-Khazraji, who leads Iraq’s counter-terrorism forces, was expecting a fierce fight but noted the “enemy just collapsed.” The victory over IS in Rutbah has given Iraqi forces along Iraqi militia who have waged war on IS since they first arrived in 2014, the optimism to liberate Fallujah, which is controlled by IS.

Liberation of Rutbah may have been a given as the IS appear to be withdrawing forces to prepare for the coming attacks on its strongholds in Mosul and Fallujah. Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization, a powerful Shiite militia with close ties to Iran noted, “our next operation will be Fallujah.”  Shiite militia’s view Fallujah as the epicenter of IS IED and bomb making factories.

IS had launched bombing campaign in Baghdad believed to be intended to hamper efforts at retaking Fallujah. The Washington Free Beacon reported as of Friday, May 20, 2016 that the Iraqi military and members of the People’s Mobilization Unit (PMU), a coalition of militia units, have surrounded the city of Fallujah, and are prepared to kill or capture the suspected 800 IS members holding the city.

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