Anbar is Iraq’s largest province and has been home to ISIS ever since its inception 3-4 years ago. It has continued to represent one of the most important strongholds in terms of having a stable base of control in Iraq and connecting the terrorist group to its comrades across the border in Syria.
The Iraqi forces have been attempting to wrestle back control over the province throughout the conflict in order to dislodge the terrorist group from the area and to disconnect it from its other strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS grew in prominence in Anbar province in early 2014 when it waged heavy battles against the Iraqi armed forces and took over large parts of the province. ISIS achieved a significant victory in mid-2015 by taking full control of the capital of Anbar, Ramadi, after months of fighting between Iraqi, as well as Coalition, forces and ISIS. The Iraqi forces, nevertheless, took back the city in early 2016 and have gone on to recover other territories and major strongholds in the province, such as Fallujah.
Since recovering these territories in the province thousands of displaced families have been able to return to their homes in Ramadi, Haditha, al-Khalidiya, Hit and Saqlawiyah.
One of ISIS’ most prominent strongholds within Anbar province currently is al-Qa’im, which is located very close to the border with Syria and is more or less in the centre of all the territories that the terrorist group has control over at the moment. Al-Qaim is strategically and tactically one of the group’s most important strongholds. It is surrounded by fertile agricultural land so in case of a blockade, the city would not be cut off from food supplies. It is also surrounded by large uninhabited areas, with hills, plateaus and canyons, as well as a number of natural tunnels. This means that weapons can be stored all around the area and that IS fighters can move through the tunnels without being spotted by fighter jets or drones.
The Iraqi Armed Forces have accomplished a number of successful in the Anbar province, having been able to liberate a number of urban areas, such as the capital Ramadi and Fallujah. However, these areas are in the eastern parts of the province and are very close to Baghdad, thus allowing easier access for the Iraqi forces to penetrate these areas.
Most attention in Iraq is now being directed towards the battle to liberate Hawija launched by the Iraqi forces. After ISIS’ losses in Mosul and Tal Afar in Nineveh, Hawija has been considered the next most prominent stronghold of the terrorist group in Iraq.