May 2015 – BAGHDAD – The fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to Islamic State (ISIS) fighters could herald a “brutal, destructive fight” for the capital Baghdad, a Middle East expert has warned. Fighting has intensified close to Iraq’s biggest city in recent weeks, with the nearby strategic town of Ramadi falling into the hands of extremist ISIS fighters over the weekend. Now, a leading academic has predicted an “almighty confrontation” in the capital, warning of a “civil war focused on Baghdad which would be extremely destructive.” Professor Gareth Stansfield said the primary threat was posed by terrorist sleeper cells that had the potential to launch a bombing campaign from inside the city. He told Express.co.uk: “ISIS doesn’t just operate as a regular military force as it is doing in Ramadi, it also has terrorist cells as well. “If it has terrorist cells in Baghdad and they are activated, and we start to see the big suicide bombs and the big car bombs and the shootings and maybe an internal insurgency in Baghdad, then this starts to look extremely dangerous indeed.”
ISIS militants reportedly butchered 500 civilians and soldiers in Ramadi during fierce fighting, forcing a further 8,000 to flee the violence. The group took advantage of sand storms to launch a deadly assault on the area, defeating Iraqi forces backed by the United States and a coalition of Arab states. The White House described the fall of Ramadi as a “setback” but insisted the US would help Iraqis recapture the city. Experts are now warning that a flurry of brutal execution videos could follow in the wake of ISIS’s victory. Prof Stansfield, a director of Middle East Studies at the security think-tank Royal United Service Institute, said the fall of Ramadi would be seen as a “great propaganda victory” for the terror network.
Baghdad is within striking distance of Ramadi, which is just 70 miles west of the capital, and there are fears that the instability could pose a threat to the Iraqi government, with pressure mounting on the country’s president, Haider al-Abadi. Prof Stansfield, who also contributed to the Iraq Inquiry into the 2003 war, said it was possible that ISIS fighters might make “some serious advances, moving very quickly as they do, but then the Shia militia mobilizing and you get an almighty confrontation in Baghdad, and a civil war focused on Baghdad which would be extremely destructive.” He added: “You wouldn’t see the government of Iraq fall, just because it is so firmly entrenched as a Shia city now, and the Iranians have invested so much…they have got the defense of Baghdad worked out but it would be a very, very brutal, destructive fight.” However, Baghdad remains for the time being relatively safe and was unlikely to fall into enemy hands he said.
“It is difficult to imagine Baghdad falling to the Islamic State, just because Baghdad is so heavily populated by Shia and the Shia militia have flooded Baghdad, it is very difficult then to imagine that happening,” said Prof Stansfield. If that were to happen, the future of Iraq itself would be thrown into question, as the government would likely be deposed and control of key infrastructure and resources would fall under ISIS control. –Express UK