‘Blind judge’ shows up in Ramadi

A senior ISIS figure known as “the blind judge” has made an appearance in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, asserting the militant group’s dominion over it as security forces and Shiite militias prepare a counterattack.

Residents of Ramadi said that a blind man with one hand and his head shrouded had delivered a speech in the Anbar provincial capital’s main mosque after evening prayers Wednesday.

They did not know who he was but recognized him to be a senior figure because he was flanked by a large number of guards and said his accent indicated he was Iraqi.

Iraqi security expert Hisham al-Hashimi identified the man as Ali Attiya al-Jubouri, who is also known as Abu Asim, or “the blind judge” of ISIS.

“This cleric who appeared in Ramadi yesterday is very famous,” Hashimi said. “He is the second highest religious authority after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the fifth man in the organization of ISIS.”

Hashimi said the appearance of the blind judge was designed to win over residents of Ramadi, many of whom sided with the government and fended off the militants until they were finally overcome on May 17.

Iraqi forces thwarted an attack by ISIS militants on their front line position east of Ramadi Thursday.

Police and pro-government tribal fighters on the frontline in Husaiba al-Sharqiya, around 7 km east of Ramadi, said the militants had tried to cut them off from behind by crossing the Euphrates River at dawn.

“They started the attack under cover of mortars and sniper shots, but we managed to abort it,” Sunni tribal leader Amir al-Fahdawi said. “We have enough troops deployed and a couple of tanks positioned near the bridge.”

South of Ramadi, Shiite militia fighters along with police pressed an advance in al-Tash area late Wednesday but came under attack from an ISIS suicide bomber driving an armored vehicle packed with explosives.

Police sources said seven militiamen had been killed and the forces, mainly Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilization militia force, were forced to retreat.

Iraq announced an operation this week aimed at driving the militants out of their remaining strongholds in Salahuddin province as well as Anbar, most of which is under ISIS control.

Separately, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Pentagon officials have begun to examine how the U.S. military could better equip and train Iraqi troops after the fall of Ramadi.

Carter told reporters on his plane to Asia that he had convened a group of defense policy officials and military officers from U.S. Central Command and the Pentagon’s Joint Staff to look at how “we can enhance, hasten” the mission to train and equip Iraqi forces.

The initial meeting took place Tuesday before Carter departed on a trip to Asia.

“The events of recent weeks there [in Iraq] have highlighted the central importance of having a capable ground partner and that’s what the purpose of our train-and-equip program is. So we are looking,” Carter said.

Also, the government has exhumed the remains of 470 people believed to have been executed by ISIS near Tikrit last year in what is known as the Speicher massacre, the health minister said.

“We have exhumed the bodies of 470 Speicher martyrs from burial sites in Tikrit,” Adila Hammoud told a news conference in Baghdad, adding that the number was not final.

In June 2014, armed men belonging or allied to ISIS abducted hundreds of young, mostly Shiite recruits from Speicher military base, just outside the city of Tikrit.

They were then lined up in several locations and executed one by one, as shown in pictures and footage later released by ISIS.

The highest estimate for the number of people killed stands at 1,700.