Baghdad: Iraq imposed a curfew in the western city of Ramadi today amid fears that the Islamic State group was looking to advance on the strategically important city as attacks in Baghdad killed 21 people, officials said.
The curfew, which began before dawn, is part of an effort to limit movement in and out of the city as government forces prepared to combat pockets of resistance there, said Sabah Karhout, the chairman of the Anbar provincial council.
Ramadi, the capital of the vast Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, is located 115 kilometres (70 miles) west of Baghdad. The Islamic State group has in recent weeks been making gains against the embattled Iraqi military around Ramadi despite ongoing, US-led coalition airstrikes on the militants.
Capturing Ramadi could have a huge ripple effect throughout Anbar, since controlling the provincial capital ultimately paralyses the surrounding areas and further helps the militants secure yet another corridor between Syria and Iraq for the passage of fighters, munitions and field artillery. The Islamic State group and allied Sunni militants seized the Anbar city of Fallujah, parts of Ramadi and large rural areas of Anbar early this year.
The loss of Fallujah where American troops engaged in some of the heaviest fighting of the more than eight-year US-led war in the country foreshadowed the later loss of Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul and much of the north. Mosul and the northern areas fell to the IS group in its blitz in June.
"Limited US airstrikes in Anbar are not enough," said Liqaa Wardi, an Anbar provincial lawmaker. "We do not want to see airstrikes being wasted on minor targets, like a lone pickup truck moving in the desert." Wardi said the people of Anbar need airstrikes targeting the IS group's "command centers, high-value targets and big gatherings by the terrorists."
Anbar has remained a high flashpoint. Earlier this week, Anbar provincial police chief Brig Gen Ahmed al-Dulaimi was killed while traveling in a convoy north of Ramadi through an area cleared by Iraqi security forces a day earlier, Anbar councilman Faleh al-Issawi said. It was not immediately clear if others were killed or wounded in that attack.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with a delegation from Anbar on Friday, and urged the province's tribes to side with Iraqi security forces in the fight against the Islamic State militants.