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Iraqi Forces Retake Center Of Ramadi From ISIS


We turn now to the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq. The city of Ramadi is just 60 miles west of Baghdad. Back in May, ISIS seized control of it. Now Iraqi Security Forces have retaken the city's government complex, a sign of significant progress. U.S. officials have sent their congratulations, but ISIS still controls parts of Ramadi. I asked NPR's Alice Fordham to describe what this development means for Iraq.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: The Iraqi military, understandably, is very keen to look at this as a big victory, but you can also see it as a reversal of a major loss, you know? When Ramadi was lost in May, there had already been months of training by the U.S. and coalition allies of Iraqi forces. And the loss of Ramadi said a lot of bad things about the Iraqi military. Coalition officials at the time said that Iraqi soldiers had deserted their posts unnecessarily, that Ramadi wasn't taken by ISIS; it was lost by the Iraqis.

And at the time, the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said Ramadi will be retaken in days. And here we are, seven months later, with Iraqi Security Forces taking the center of an abandoned city, declaring a victory that other people, including the Americans and local leaders, said, you know, well, actually, ISIS is still in control of some areas of this place. So this is a day of celebration for Iraq's military, but we do have to set it in the context of the loss of Ramadi and how damaging that was.

CORNISH: What about ISIS? What, if anything, does this tell us about the condition of the so-called Islamic State?

FORDHAM: Well, Ramadi is only a small part of the territory that ISIS currently controls. The large cities that they do hold - Raqqah in Syria and Mosul in Iraq - don't currently look like they're under threat. But there are things happening which are likely to undermine ISIS's infrastructure and their ability to govern. For example, there have been more aggressive strikes on their oil infrastructure which has been a big source of income for them. There has been a crackdown by Turkey on the flow of fighters coming from Turkey into Syria and replenishing the ranks of ISIS's fighters. And the Iraqi government has stopped paying government salaries in some areas held by ISIS, and that was a big source of revenue for them because they were taxing those things, that source. So the group is facing military pressure, but there are other things as well that are affecting ISIS's ability and that might be more important in the long term.

CORNISH: At the same time, defeating ISIS requires basically holding on to that territory, right? And in the case of Ramadi, are the Iraqis going to be able to hold the city and prevent ISIS from returning?

FORDHAM: Yeah, exactly - that is an important question because it's a challenge they'll face in most of the other places that ISIS holds in Iraq. The people there are Sunni, and they often hold grudges against the government in Baghdad which is led by Shiite Muslims. So Baghdad, first and foremost, has to prove that they're offering something better in terms of governance than ISIS did. And most of people from Ramadi are not there. They have to be persuaded now that it is safe to go back. And there have been problems in the past and similar situations with tribal retribution, people taking revenge on the people that sided with ISIS. In the past, that has been resolved, to a degree, with mediation, with the payment of blood money, with external actors like the U.N. involved in persuading local officials and police to go back to retaken areas, but the process is not a simple one.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Alice Fordham. Alice, thank you.

FORDHAM: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.