ISIS Islamic fighters are preparing to march on the Iraqi city of Baghdad within the next month – and spark a bloody sectarian battle with Shi’ite militias stationed there –after capturing the city of Ramadi, just 60 miles west of it, experts have said.
Mutilated bodies scatter the streets of Ramadi, the ‘Gateway of Baghdad’, where Islamic State slaughtered around 500 and forced over 8,000 to flee their homes over the last few days.
Shi’ite fighters have already launched a counter-offensive to recapture the city, but these kinds of tactics play straight into Islamic State’s grand plan to spark all-out war in the region, according to the Middle East director of counter-terrorism think-tank RUSI.
Islamic State militants are already marching east towards the Habbaniya army base – around 20 miles east of Ramadi – where a column of 3,000 Shi’ite paramilitaries are amassing, witnesses and a military officer has said.
And if ISIS manage to reach Baghdad, it would be ‘utter carnage’, Professor Gareth Stansfield told MailOnline.
He said: ‘If ISIS turn up in great numbers in Baghdad, it will be an absolute slaughter between Sunni’s and Shia’s there.
‘They [ISIS] are now having so many successes, and moving so quickly, that Baghdad is under very real threat from ISIS forces outside Baghdad and also the ISIS terror cells inside Baghdad as well.
‘We’re in for a very long summer of fighting in Iraq and ISIS could make their move [on Baghdad] in the next month. Taking Ramadi will… make the Shia militia in Baghdad even more radicalised and more dangerous.
‘And this is what ISIS wants, it wants it to come out and have sectarian scrap which forces all the Sunni’s to go towards ISIS.
‘If they had any opportunity to enter Baghdad, they would do. But it will be more and more difficult for them to do it because Baghdad is a military stronghold of the Shia militia.’
And if they manage to actually take Baghdad, which is predominantly Shia but has some Christian regions, Professor Stansfield says ‘there would be massacres to the scale we haven’t seen since the Mongol empire in the 13th Century’.
And as fighting rages in and around the city, Islamic State fighters are also taking on Iraq’s military and tribal groups in the north.
ISIS are using rocket-propelled grenades to take on the Shi’ite militia ‘Popular Mobilisation’ in the city of Samarra, 70 miles north of the capital, according to Institute for the Study of War.
Professor Stansfield added: ‘Baghdad is in some ways already surrounded but now it’s lost Ramadi, this now brings the spectre of ISIS extremely close to Baghdad.’
‘If you piece together where ISIS has control, it has Baiji which is much further north but still somewhere the Iraqi forces are having to fight.
‘You’ve got ISIS very strong in Fallujah to the west of Baghdad and you’ve got ISIS pretty safe in Mosul.’
The loss of Ramadi – the capital of Iraq’s largest province Anbar – was the military’s worst setback since it started clawing back territory from the Islamic State group late last year.
Earlier Sunday, al-Abadi ordered Shi’ite militias to prepare to go into the Sunni-dominated province, ignoring U.S. concerns their presence could spark sectarian bloodshed.
By late Sunday, a large number of Shi’ite militiamen had arrived at a military base near Ramadi, apparently to participate in a possible counter-offensive, said the head of the Anbar provincial council, Sabah Karhout.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he remained confident about the fight against the Islamic State group, despite the setbacks like the loss of Ramadi.
Kerry, travelling through South Korea, said that he’s long said the fight against the militant group would be a long one and that it would be tough in the Anbar province of western Iraq where Iraqi security forces are not built up.
Sunday’s retreat recalled the collapse of Iraqi security forces last summer in the face of the Islamic State’s blitz into Iraq that saw it capture a third of the country, where it has declared a caliphate, or Islamic State.
It also calls into question the Obama administration’s hopes of relying solely on airstrikes to support the Iraqi forces in expelling the extremists.
‘We welcome any group, including Shi’ite militias, to come and help us in liberating the city from the militants.
‘What happened today is a big loss caused by lack of good planning by the military,’ said Sunni tribal leader Naeem al-Gauoud.
He said many tribal fighters died trying to defend the city, and bodies, some charred, were strewn in the streets, while others had been thrown in the Euphrates River.
The final ISIS push to take Ramadi began early Sunday with four nearly simultaneous bombings that targeted police officers defending the Malaab district in southern Ramadi, a pocket of the city still under Iraqi government control, killing at least 10 police and wounding 15, officials said.
Among the dead was Colonel Muthana al-Jabri, the chief of the Malaab police station.
Later, three suicide bombers drove their explosive-laden cars into the gate of the Anbar Operation Command, the military headquarters for the province, killing at least five soldiers and wounding 12, the officials said.
The extremists later seized Malaab after government forces withdrew, with the militants saying they controlled the military headquarters.
A police officer who was stationed at the headquarters said retreating Iraqi forces left behind about 30 army vehicles and weapons that included artillery and assault rifles.
He said some two dozens police officers went missing during the fighting. The officer and the other officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorised to talk to reporters.