"Islamic State" militants have strengthened their defenses against a possible attempt by Iraqi troops and Shiite militia to retake Ramadi. Meanwhile, Baghdad is facing difficulties winning support from local Sunnis.
Fighters from "Islamic State" (IS) on Tuesday set up defensive positions and laid landmines in and around Ramadi, as the group further established its grip on the city.
The Islamists were reported to be carrying out house-to-house raids in the city, searching for pro-government police and soldiers. Meanwhile, the Iraqi army and paramilitary forces gathered around Ramadi, the largest city in Anbar province, seeking to reclaim it from IS.
With pressure mounting for action to retake the city, a local government official urged Ramadi residents to help the police and the army retake the town the jihadists captured on Sunday.
The White House has said an air-led campaign would be conducted to help the Iraqi government regain Ramadi using its nonsectarian forces.
However, the Iraqi government is still hamstrung by its inability to win over the hearts and minds of Sunni Muslims in Anbar, having failed to address sectarian rivalries.
Some 3,000 Shiite militiamen have deployed near Ramadi, mostly in the Habbaniya military base and the town of Khaldiya, to the east of the city. Shiite support has been helpful for Iraq in fighting IS over recent months, but their presence is resented by many Sunnis. While the Shiites have been of crucial importance in helping Iraq's regulars claim a string of victories against IS, they have also been accused of abuses against Sunnis.
Shiite militiamen, who are among the paramilitaries waiting to act, have called the offensive the "Battle of Anbar."
Too little, too late?
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi vowed Tuesday to also arm and train Sunni tribesmen in Anbar and to help them retake Ramadi.
US President Barack Obama welcomed al-Abadi's decision, which was supported by the Iraqi Council of Ministers.
However, the plan has been met with skepticism from Sunnis, who have long expressed disillusionment and concern that they are discriminated against by Iraq's Shiite-led government.
rc/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)