On 28 December 2015, Iraqi forces retook the city of Ramadi, ousting ISIS from the stronghold 68 miles west of Baghdad. The city first fell to ISIS forces on 17 May 2015, following a five month battle by the Islamic State to seize the city in the aftermath of their blitz across northern Iraq. Ramadi was one of the largest cities taken by ISIS in their assault against Iraqi forces. Its relative proximity to the capital city of Baghdad prompted the Iraqi government to focus their efforts there, as opposed to the larger ISIS-controlled city of Mosul, which is located further north on the Iraqi Kurdish border. Despite Iraqi control of the city center, pockets of ISIS forces remain, with government officials declaring 30 percent of the city remains under ISIS control. The battle dealt a costly blow to ISIS in Iraq, with half of all ISIS fighters in the city killed by Iraqi forces and coalition airstrikes. The ISIS fighters that fled following the Iraqi victory are believed to have moved towards Mosul, further strengthening ISIS control of that city.
Mosul appears to be the next target of liberation by Iraqi and coalition forces. The northern Iraqi city fell on 10 June 2014, after 1,500 ISIS fighters routed two Iraqi army divisions. The city saw a displacement of 500,000 residents who fled the fighting. The Northern Iraq Offensive of 2014 also saw ISIS forces seize the city of Tikrit and move on Kirkuk. Kirkuk was defended by Kurdish forces, which repelled ISIS assaults on the city, and remains currently under Iraqi Kurdish control. Tikrit was retaken by Iraqi security forces in April 2015.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces recently captured the city of Sinjar on 13 November 2015, cutting off the vital supply route to ISIS forces in Mosul. With limited supplies coming in to support ISIS fighters, and a renewed strategy by Iraqi forces similar to the Second Battle of Ramadi, it may lead to a quick downfall of the Islamic State in Northern Iraq.
The future battle of Mosul will be a determining factor for coalition forces fighting alongside the Iraqis. The embarrassment of two Iraqi divisions fleeing a significantly smaller force (the Iraqi’s outnumbered ISIS forces 15 to one) in Mosul, has led to apprehension by western leaders to deploy ground forces. The Iraqi’s need to bolster the morale of their army and security forces, and with the introduction of western ground forces it will send the message the West has little faith in the Iraqi army to defend their nation. Should the Iraqi army fail to retake Mosul (if Tikrit and Ramadi are of any indication, it appears they have the capability) it may lead ISIS to launch yet another offensive from Mosul, and this time possibly drive on the capital in Baghdad.