Middle East

Ramadi battle: Iraq calls for volunteers for IS fight

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Media captionAhmed Maher was the first BBC journalist to travel to Anbar province for five months

Iraq's government has called for volunteers to fight against Islamic State and help retake the city of Ramadi.

A cabinet statement said a voluntary recruitment drive was necessary to fill shortages in squads in the west of Anbar province.

Thousands have fled Ramadi since its capture by IS on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the US National Security Council said it was considering "how best to support local ground forces".

Spokesman Alistair Baskey told AFP that some of the measures may include "accelerating the training and equipping of local tribes and supporting an Iraqi-led operation to retake Ramadi".

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Image caption Thousands of families have been displaced by the violence in Anbar province in recent days

A more detailed announcement could come within days.

President Barack Obama has been briefed by advisers and "reaffirmed the strong US support" for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Stand united

Pro-government forces and police officials told Reuters news agency they had thwarted an IS attack to the east of Ramadi overnight, near to where Shia militias have been deployed ahead of a counter-offensive.

Witnesses earlier reported seeing Islamic State militants setting up defensive positions in the city itself.

After a Council of Ministers meeting on Tuesday, the Iraqi prime minister vowed to prosecute forces who fled the city in the wake of the IS attacks.

Mr Abadi said the Iraqi people needed to "stand unified" and called for voluntary recruitment to the army. He also pledged to recruit and arm tribal fighters.

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Media captionThe BBC had exclusive access to an Iraq coalition mission near Mosul

Fleeing Ramadi residents face tough choices

On the frontline in Anbar province

The council also issued a fresh plea to the international community to help Iraq's "war against terrorism".

The loss of Ramadi, capital of western Anbar province, is a blow for both the Iraqi government and US strategy in the area, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.

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Image caption Iraqi soldiers have been backed up by Shia militiamen in the fight against Islamic State
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Many refugees have been waiting to cross the Bzeibez bridge. south-west of the capital Baghdad

Retaking it is a massive challenge to the Iraqi government, which has had to appeal to the Shia militias despite risks of a sectarian backlash from sending them deep into the Sunni heartland, our correspondent adds.

Some 3,000 Shia militiamen are said to be "on standby" at Habbaniyah military camp, some 20km east of Ramadi, in preparation for an attempt to recapture the city.

The United Nations says some 25,000 people have fled the area in recent days, with many having to sleep in the open.

Streets in the city are deserted, but some shops have been forced to open by IS fighters.

Militants were also going door-to-door looking for government sympathisers and throwing bodies in the Euphrates river, residents said.

Troubled history of Anbar province

  • Iraq's largest province, which is Sunni-dominated, was occupied by US forces in 2003
  • Hostile to the US, fighting quickly broke out between US troops and the region's Sunni insurgents
  • The worst battle came in 2004, when thousands died as US troops and coalition forces struggled to take the town of Falluja
  • Fighting continued in 2005 and 2006 during which time al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) rose to prominence
  • The US declared victory in 2007 but AQI remained, resuming attacks in 2011 when US troops withdrew
  • Islamic State and other Sunni insurgents currently control much of the province