Islamic State poured more fighters into Ramadi as security forces and Shi’ite paramilitaries prepared to try to retake the Iraqi city, while Washington scrambled to reassure Baghdad after a U.S. official’s sharp criticism of Iraqi forces.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi after Defense Secretary Ash Carter questioned Iraqi troops’ will to fight when Ramadi fell. The U.S. damage-control effort came as the loss of Ramadi and Palmyra in Syria put its strategy against Islamic State into question.
“The vice president recognized the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past eighteen months in Ramadi and elsewhere,” the White House said in a statement about Biden’s call with Abadi.
“The United States will … do all we can to help the brave Iraqi forces, including the tribes of Anbar, secure the province from ISIL terrorists,” a senior U.S. official said separately, referring to the group by an acronym.
The insurgents reinforced Ramadi on Monday, deploying fighters in preparation for battle against security forces and paramilitary groups advancing on the provincial capital, 110 km (70 miles) northwest of the capital, Baghdad.
Iraqi forces have regained ground east of Ramadi since launching a counter-offensive , a few days after it was overrun, and retook a rural area south of the city.
In comments , Carter knocked Iraqi forces for being unsuccessful in holding Ramadi despite being more numerous than the militants, drawing a rebuke from Abadi, who said the U.S. defense chief had been misinformed. Abadi predicted Iraqi forces would take back Ramadi “in days.”
In Palmyra, the Syrian air force struck at buildings captured by the Sunni militant group, whose arrival has raised fears that the city’s famed Roman ruins will be destroyed.
The air force leveled Islamic State “hideouts” and killed a large number of its members around Palmyra’s military air base, Syrian state media said.
Islamic State has killed at least 217 people execution-style, including children, since it moved into the Palmyra area 10 days ago, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.