In preparation for what appears to be the Islamic State’s imminent assault on portions of Baghdad, ISIS is going about securing the neighboring key Sunni-dominated province of Anbar.
On Sunday, ISIS claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated suicide bombings and roadside attacks in that Iraqi province. One of those attacks killed Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al-Dulaimi, the chief of police in Ramadi, Anbar’s provincial capital. Officials estimate that ISIS now controls approximately 80 percent of that restive province, and will soon mount an assault on the regional capital.
“While the militant group is yet to take the provincial capital of Ramadi, officials in Anbar warn that they are losing their grip on the city to a highly organized and disciplined insurgency that has surrounded military bases and put a choke hold on trade from Jordan” The Wall Street Journal reported, “effectively controlling movements of goods and people in the region.”
Apparently, ISIS does not need to take Baghdad in order reshape global geopolitics. The capture of Ramadi would reportedly have a significant impact on the global oil market and allow ISIS to virtually cut off most Iraqi trade to the West.
“Ramadi has been contested since January when Islamic State militants overran the nearby town of Fallujah,” Bloomberg reported last week. “Its capture by militants would leave them in control of most major cities stretching along a highway running west from Baghdad to the Jordanian and Syrian border, and enable them to choke off supplies to the capital of OPEC’s second-largest oil producer.”
The impact this might have on the price of oil globally could be minimal. Iraq has been experiencing supply disruptions since the start of the ISIS blitz across portion of the north and west of the country. Crude prices have been declining for weeks, and they fell to a nearly four-year low over the weekend. Following Saudi Arabia’s lead, Iraq cut the price of oil exports to Europe and Asia on Monday.
Reporting has indicated that the worst thing that could happen for ISIS is for the tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers defending Baghdad to fold. The 10,000 ISIS fighters besieging the city could not occupy and administer the sprawling city of 7 million even if they had that desire. For now, most analysts believe, the Islamic State army’s’ goal is, according to RAND Corporation analyst Richard Brennan, lay siege to the city and destroy the credibility of the government.
“It’s not plausible at this point to envision ISIL taking control of Baghdad, but they can make Baghdad so miserable that it would threaten the legitimacy of the central government,” Brennan told the Associated Press.
Cutting Baghdad off from the West by taking control of the highways leading into Jordan and targeting the Baghdad airport with mortar attacks would go a long way toward undermining the credibility of the nascent al-Abadi government.
An earlier version of this post identified Baghdad as a city with a population of nearly 9 million people.