— Jeff Jacoby (@Jeff_Jacoby) June 22, 2014
As far as Joel Wing can tell, the jihadists and their allies have effectively conquered Anbar province:
Radio Free Iraq, which has been keeping track of the security situation in Anbar estimated that up to 85% of the province is now under insurgent control. It is important to note that while the Islamic State has done plenty of fighting in Anbar there are several other major groups involved as well, such as the Baathist Naqshibandi and its Military Councils, Jaysh al-Mujahadeen, many tribes, and others. Together they have made the security forces chase them across Anbar, while seizing town after town.
Just as the Iraqi forces collapsed in Ninewa and parts of Kirkuk and Salahaddin in June, it has done the same in much of Anbar. The border crossings with Syria and Jordan are now under insurgent control, along with much of the area around Fallujah. The militants are now attempting to seize the remaining towns and cities between those two points such as Ramadi, Haditha, and Hit. The security forces, allied tribes, and the militias were already doing a bad job in holding the province before the June offensive started. They have repeatedly gone into the same towns again and again, but then leave allowing the insurgents to move right back in. Now they are fleeing like they have in the rest of the country.
Iraqi Shia militiamen who were in Syria assisting Bashar Assad’s forces mostly in the Damascus suburbs reportedly are returning home to try to battle the Sunni advance against the Shia-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. One fighter told AP: “We took part in the fighting in Syria. But now the priority is Iraq.”
The Shia militiamen’s exodus from the fight in Syria – some estimates put their number as high as 30,000 – will leave a gap in the Assad war machine. Firas Abi Ali, an analyst with the risk assessment consultancy IHS, says Hezbollah will likely fill the gap left by Shia militiamen returning to Iraq. But he believes the withdrawal won’t be accomplished quickly, since ISIS controls the land routes, and the departure as it unfolds probably will “reduce the ability of the Syrian government to mount new offensives and place it on the strategic defensive.”
So, for ISIS and Sunni militants there is now every reason to increase the pressure in Lebanon on Iran-backed Hezbollah. And the signs are that they are.
Meanwhile, Lake and Rogin report that ISIS is trying to take over the Balad airbase, Iraq’s largest:
Of course, even if ISIS were to gain control of Balad, there is no guarantee its fighters would know how to operate or maintain the aircraft that are stored there. But an ISIS takeover of Balad would be significant nonetheless. As NBC News reported Tuesday, Iraqi officers say without air support they are on an equal footing with ISIS fighters.
Jessica Lewis—the research director for the Institute for the Study of War and a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who served in Iraq—told The Daily Beast, “It would mean that ISIS can beat the best that the Iraqi Army can muster, not just the northern units that have been ignored. It would mean strategic defeat for the Iraqi Army.”