TIME Crime

U.K. Bomb Maker Sentenced to Life for Killing U.S. Soldier

London taxi driver Anis Sardar, was today convicted in a British court of murdering US soldier Sergeant First Class Randy Johnson eight years ago in Iraq.
British Metropolitan Police Service/AFP/Getty Images London taxi driver Anis Sardar, was today convicted in a British court of murdering US soldier Sergeant First Class Randy Johnson eight years ago in Iraq.

He was convicted Thursday of murder and conspiracy to murder

(LONDON) — A British man was sentenced Friday to life in prison for making a roadside bomb that killed a U.S. soldier in Iraq in 2007.

Anis Abid Sardar, 38, was accused of assembling bombs in Syria that were planted on the western outskirts of Baghdad that year. One of the devices killed Sgt. 1st Class Randy Johnson, 34, of 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment. Johnson, from Washington, D.C., died after his armored vehicle struck a bomb on Sept. 27, 2007. Four other soldiers were injured.

He was arrested years later after FBI investigators found his fingerprints on some of the devices. Prosecutors said he was a “highly dangerous man” working with “murderous intent against coalition forces.”

Sardar, a former London taxi driver, was believed to be the first person to be convicted in a British court for fighting in the Iraqi insurgency.

He was convicted Thursday of murder and conspiracy to murder. He had denied all the charges against him, and told the court he became involved in the Iraqi insurgency to protect his fellow Sunni Muslims from Shia militias. He said American soldiers had not been his targets.

But Justice Henry Globe dismissed that and said Sardar had “a mindset that made Americans every bit the enemy as Shia militias.”

Sardar was to life with a minimum term of 38 years.

TIME Military

Pentagon Rhetoric About Ramadi’s Fall Risks U.S. Credibility

IRAQ-CONFLICT-ANBAR
Sabah Arar—AFP/Getty Images Ramadi residents flee their city after ISIS fighters took control of it on Saturday.

Sometimes it’s best to keep quiet if you're not winning

When generals start playing with syntax, hold on to your wallets. “The ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) was not driven out of Ramadi,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday. “They drove out of Ramadi.”

That grammatical shift from the passive to the active voice—Dempsey boasts a master’s degree in literature from Duke, after all—highlights just how badly Iraq’s U.S.-backed war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is now going.

“We saw this movie—it was called Vietnam,” says Anthony Zinni, a retired four-star Marine general who began his career in that country in 1967, advising South Vietnamese marines. “They are losing credibility. We went through this in Vietnam where we touted pacification and winning all these battles while strategically losing the war.”

The growing disconnect between what’s happening on the ground, and what U.S. military leaders say is happening on the ground, has consequences. “For the last 13 years, even though we have not done well in either Iraq or Afghanistan, the American people have stayed with the military,” Bing West, a one-time Marine infantryman and former assistant defense secretary, says. “But if the American people now see a gap between the reality and what the military is telling them, then you end up with the corrosiveness that we saw in Vietnam.”

Dempsey’s verbal twist—implying that ISIS didn’t force some of Iraq’s best troops out of the city, but, thanks in part to American training, they left in a crafty and bold military move—comes on the heels of a Friday briefing at the Pentagon that Saturday revealed to be close to fiction.

“We firmly believe [ISIS] is on the defensive throughout Iraq and Syria,” Marine Brigadier General Thomas Weidley told Pentagon reporters in a teleconference from the region. “The Iraqis, with coalition support, are making sound progress,” Weidley, chief of staff of Operation Inherent Resolve, the anti-ISIS operation, added. “The coalition will continue to support the government of Iraq as they conduct operations in Ramadi.”

The next day, after a series of bombings, ISIS fighters took over Ramadi after Iraqi troops fled, collecting a half-dozen U.S.-provided tanks and 100 vehicles abandoned by the Iraqis in their rush to drive out of the capital of Anbar province. ISIS forces killed an estimated 500 Iraqi troops and civilians, while 25,000 residents fled the city. In addition to Ramadi, they now occupy the major Iraqi cities of Mosul and Fallujah.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 11.23.52 AM

Pentagon officials argue that the long-term U.S. strategy—stepped-up (re)training of Iraqi troops, backed by U.S. and allied air power—ultimately will prevail. They note that they have said from the start that the anti-ISIS campaign could take three years. The U.S. joined the fight last August, and has been flying nearly-daily air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. There’s a push “for a narrative about success, and that the strategy is fine, that influences different echelons of our government and military to not go outside that narrative,” says Derek Harvey, a one-time Army intelligence officer now at the University of South Florida. “That disconnect risks undermining their credibility.” The retired colonel, who worked for Army general David Petraeus, believes the U.S. focus on vehicles destroyed “measures progress by elements that are irrelevant and meaningless.” The U.S.-led effort is additionally handicapped because it has been done half-heartedly. “A bad strategy that is not properly resourced has a zero chance of success,” he says.

The Pentagon has deployed about 3,000 U.S. troops to train Iraqi forces, although President Obama has restricted their efforts to areas well behind the front lines. That means they can’t call in air strikes and gather front-line intelligence that could give Iraqi forces a critical advantage. Zinni contends a relatively small U.S. combat force on the ground inside Iraq could destroy ISIS, but Obama’s aversion to casualties has ruled that out. “Everybody with any kind of military experience in the Pentagon knows damn right well that this strategy isn’t going to work because you’re counting on breaking his will and there’s no sign of that happening,” he adds. “This strategy has got to bring up Vietnam, where they were saying, `Give us time, we’ll kill enough of them and hit a tipping point.’ The problem is they have not found the tipping point.”

The American people, following more than a decade of war, may not be in the mood for another two years of fighting with an unreliable ally. The Pentagon is doing what it can despite the restrictions the White House has imposed. But the over-selling of military progress in battling ISIS is the first step in a treacherous march toward disillusionment that the U.S. military has now begun.

“If the battle is going against you—and it is—do not put yourself in the position where the credibility of the U.S. military is undermined,” West says of Dempsey’s drive-time comment. “If it doesn’t look good, say nothing.”

TIME Terrorism

These Are the Cities Most Likely to Be Hit by a Terrorist Attack

Twelve of the world's capital cities are considered at "extreme risk" of an attack

A report by global-risk-analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft has identified the cities most likely to be hit by a terrorist attack.

Maplecroft analyzed 1,300 of the world’s important urban centers and commercial hubs and ranked them based on the intensity and frequency of attacks in the year following February 2014. The report also combined the number and severity of attacks in the previous five years.

Baghdad is considered the most at-risk city in the world, with 1,141 people dying in 380 attacks. In all, seven of the most at-risk cities are all in Iraq, including Mosul ranked at No. 2 and Ramadi at No. 3.

According to the index, 64 cities around the world are at “extreme risk” of an attack, most of these are in the Middle East (27) including cities in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan or Asia.

Of those 64 at extreme risk of a terrorist attack, 12 are capital cities including Egypt’s Cairo, Abuja in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya and Pakistan’s Islamabad.

There are 14 cities in Africa that have seen an increased risk of violence, which has been attributed to militant extremist groups Boko Haram and al-Shabab as well as political instability.

Three cities at extreme risk of attacks are in Europe, with Ukraine’s Luhansk ranked at 46, Donetsk at 56, and Grozny in Russia at 54.

The British city most at risk of an attack is Belfast (91), compared with Manchester (398) and London, which is ranked at 400.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris that left 17 people dead in January, the city was considered “high risk” and its ranking soared from 201 before the attacks to 97.

TIME jeb bush

Jeb Bush Doubles Down on His Last Name

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting, on May 16, 2015, at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall—AP Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting, on May 16, 2015, at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.

"I love my mom and dad. I love my brother"

Make no mistake: Jeb Bush is a member of that Bush clan.

After struggling last week to square his likely presidential campaign with his family tree, the former Florida governor is hitting the reset button. Where he previously tried to keep his father and brother — both former Presidents — at a distance, Bush is now doubling down on his lineage.

“I know you all know me as George and Barbara’s boy,” Bush said Wednesday as he opened a round table with business leaders in New Hampshire’s Seacoast. “You probably know that I’m George W.’s brother.”

There’s no escaping the family liability, no matter how much Jeb Bush’s advisers earlier thought he could. During a February speech in Chicago, Bush tried to paint himself as a different kind of leader and sought to stamp out comparisons to his family, especially his brother.

“I love my father and my brother. I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions they had to make,” Bush said. “But I am my own man.”

That didn’t last long.

“I’m proud of my family,” Bush said Wednesday. “I love my mom and dad. I love my brother. And people are just going to have to get over that. That’s just the way it is.”

The family ties came to the forefront when Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked Bush if he would have supported his brother’s decision to go to war in Iraq, even knowing that the Iraqi government did not possess weapons of mass destruction. Two days after he answered in the affirmative, he dodged the question and said he wouldn’t answer what he called hypotheticals. Aides tried to claim he misunderstood the question and move on.

His rivals for the GOP nomination didn’t yield. Democrats gleefully painted Jeb Bush as a third term for George W. Bush, who left the White House deeply unpopular over his decision to go into Iraq. Bush’s advisers struggled to respond as all corners of politics piled on.

By Thursday, Jeb Bush was telling voters that he made a mistake during the interview, and that he would not have gone to war in Iraq knowing that Saddam Hussein was not the threat George W. Bush’s Administration claimed he was.

“I would not have gone into Iraq,” Bush told reporters in Arizona.

It was a tough week for Bush and his campaign, and one Bush’s team now is looking to leave in the past. For Bush’s top advisers, it is now clear that there is no escaping the shadow of his brother or father.

“I’m not going to be in a witness protection program. I’m a Bush. I’m proud of it,” Bush told reporters. “What am I supposed to say?”

He said any campaign for President would have hiccups and stumbles.

“Admit that you’re going to make mistakes. We’re all imperfect,” Bush said.

Bush is slated to spend two days in New Hampshire, a state that is shaping up to be a state ripe with potential for his campaign. He was scheduled to take voters’ questions near Manchester, followed by business tours on Thursday in Concord and Salem.

TIME conflict

Fall of Ramadi to ISIS Raises Doubts About U.S. Strategy in Iraq

IRAQ-CONFLICT
Ahmad Al-Rubaye—AFP/Getty Images An Iraqi soldier fires at ISIS positions in the Garma district of Anbar province of Iraq on May 19, 2015.

"Right now, it looks like we're going to see a lot of trouble in the Middle East for a long time"

(WASHINGTON)—The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s capture of Ramadi, a key provincial capital in western Iraq, calls into question the Obama administration’s strategy in Iraq.

Is there a Plan B?

The current U.S. approach is a blend of retraining and rebuilding the Iraqi army, prodding Baghdad to reconcile with the nation’s Sunnis, and bombing Islamic State targets from the air without committing American ground combat troops.

But the rout in Ramadi revealed a weak Iraqi army, slow reconciliation and a bombing campaign that, while effective, is not decisive.

On Monday, administration officials acknowledged the fall of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, as a “setback.” They still maintained, however, the campaign would ultimately bring victory. They counseled patience and said periodic setbacks are to be expected in confronting the Islamic State.

But anything close to a victory appeared far off.

Derek Harvey, a retired Army colonel and former Defense Intelligence Agency military intelligence officer who served multiple tours in Iraq, says that while the extremist group has many problems and weaknesses, it is “not losing” in the face of ineffective Sunni Arab opposition.

“They are adaptive and they remain well armed and well resourced,” Harvey said. “The different lines of operation by the U.S. coalition remain disjointed, poorly resourced and lack an effective operational framework, in my view.”

One alternative for the Obama administration would be a containment strategy — trying to fence in the conflict rather than push the Islamic State group out of Iraq. That might include a combination of airstrikes and U.S. special operations raids to limit the group’s reach. In fact, a Delta Force raid in Syria on Friday killed an IS leader known as Abu Sayyaf who U.S. officials said oversaw the group’s oil and gas operations, a major source of funding.

Officials have said containment might become an option but is not under active discussion now.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a written statement Monday that suggested Ramadi will trigger no change in the U.S. approach.

“Setbacks are regrettable but not uncommon in warfare,” Dempsey said. “Much effort will now be required to reclaim the city.”

It seems highly unlikely that President Barack Obama would take the more dramatic route of sending ground combat forces into Iraq to rescue the situation in Ramadi or elsewhere. A White House spokesman, Eric Shultz, said Monday the U.S. will continue its support through airstrikes, advisers and trainers; he pointed to an intensified series of coalition air assaults in the Ramadi area, which included eight strikes overnight Sunday.

The administration has said repeatedly that it does not believe Iraq can be stabilized for the long term unless Iraqis do the ground fighting.

Ramadi may not be the most important prize in Iraq but it carries special significance to many in the American military because it was the scene of bloody battles against insurgents, costing many U.S. lives before the city was pacified in 2006-07.

Pentagon officials insisted Monday the current U.S. approach to combating IS in Iraq is still viable and that the loss of Ramadi was merely part of the ebb and flow of war, not a sign that the Islamic State had exposed a fatal weakness in the Iraqi security forces and the U.S. strategy.

“We will retake Ramadi,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. The timing, he added, will be up to the Iraqi government.

Analysts are skeptical. Stephen Biddle, a George Washington University professor of political science who periodically advised U.S. commanders in Iraq during the 2003-2011 war, said Obama has been trying to split the Sunni tribes away from the Islamic State while pressing the Iraqi government to foster and rely on non-sectarian military forces.

“That’s clearly not working, or at least it’s not making the progress we had hoped it would make,” Biddle said.

“We don’t really have a strategy at all,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an appearance Tuesday on MSNBC. “We’re basically playing this day by day.”

Gates, who headed the Pentagon for Obama as well as President George W. Bush’s administration before that, said “right now, it looks like they’re (Iraq) going the way of Yugoslavia. … Right now, it looks like we’re going to see a lot of trouble in the Middle East for a long time.”

The Institute for the Study of War, which closely tracks developments in Iraq, said Ramadi was a key Islamic State victory.

“This strategic gain constitutes a turning point in ISIS’ ability to set the terms of battle in Anbar as well to project force in eastern Iraq,” the institute said.

The full implication of Ramadi’s fall is hard to define. But it almost certainly includes not only suffering for Ramadi’s residents but also a delay in any Iraqi push to retake Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq and an Islamic State stronghold since last June.

U.S. officials had said as recently as February that they hoped the Iraqis would be ready to march on Mosul by April or May, but those hopes had faded even before Ramadi was lost.

___

Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.

TIME Innovation

How the U.S. Foreign Service Lacks Diversity

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Two top diplomats have a message about America’s foreign service: It’s “too white.”

By Thomas R. Pickering and Edward J. Perkins in the Washington Post

2. Can we ‘test’ strategies against poverty like we test new medicines?

By Michaeleen Doucleff in Goats and Soda by NPR

3. Here’s why the fall of one town to ISIS might push Iraq toward total sectarian war.

By Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker

4. When HIV patients drop out of care, they die. Kenya found a way to prevent that.

By the University of California San Francisco

5. We can end the illegal sex trade.

By Jimmy Carter and Swanee Hunt in Politico

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Troops Repel ISIS Attack on Anbar Town

Arriving from Baghdad, federal police forces create a barricade to protect the Habaniyah military base near Ramadi, Iraq, in eastern Husaybah town, 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of Ramadi
AP Arriving from Baghdad, federal police forces create a barricade to protect the Habaniyah military base near Ramadi, Iraq, in eastern Husaybah town, 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of Ramadi on May 18, 2015.

The militants launched an attack shortly before midnight to try and capture the town of Khaldiya

(BAGHDAD)—Iraqi forces and allied Sunni tribesmen repelled an Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) attack overnight on a town between two militant-held cities in the western Anbar province, a tribal leader said Tuesday.

The militants launched an attack shortly before midnight to try and capture the town of Khaldiya, which is between Fallujah and the provincial capital of Ramadi, Sheikh Rafie al-Fahdawi said.

He said the militants captured a small village outside Khaldiya. He said no troops or tribal fighters were killed in the clashes.

ISIS militants routed Iraqi troops and seized Ramadi over the weekend in their most significant advance since a U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes against the extremists last summer.

The latest advance prompted Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to order Shiite militias to prepare to go into the restive Sunni province following a request from the local government and some tribes.

The paramilitary forces, known as Popular Mobilization Units, played a major role in dislodging IS militants from the northern city of Tikrit last month and rolling back the extremists elsewhere in the country.

But rights groups have accused the militiamen of carrying out revenge attacks against Sunnis and of looting and destroying property. Militia leaders have denied the allegations.

On Monday, the ISIS militants searched door-to-door for policemen and pro-government fighters in Ramadi and threw bodies in the Euphrates River in a bloody purge. Officials put the number of people killed since Friday at least 500, including civilians and security forces.

TIME Iraq

Why ISIS Can Still Defeat the Iraqi Army in Spite of U.S. Help

Iraq security forces withdraw from Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, 70 miles west of Baghdad on May 17, 2015.
AP Iraq security forces withdraw from Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, 70 miles west of Baghdad on May 17, 2015.

American air strikes cannot compensate for divisions and distrust between the Shi'ite majority and Sunni minority

The U.S.-led coalition pounded the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) over the weekend near the Iraqi city of Ramadi but that didn’t stop them from taking the city.

On Sunday videos appeared that seemed to show Iraqi soldiers clinging to the sides of vehicles speeding out of Ramadi as ISIS moved in. The black flag of ISIS now flies over the capital of Anbar, one of Iraq’s largest provinces.

“ISIS is still a very potent force,” says Kenneth M. Pollack, a specialist in Middle East political-military affairs and a former CIA analyst.

It’s a clear sign that Iraq’s national forces aren’t ready to take on ISIS despite U.S. training and support and that Sunnis still have little faith in the Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad. The government has now called on the Shi’ite militias to help re-take Ramadi, which could further alienate Sunnis in the city, if the militias harm local people.

“The central government is accountable and is responsible for the ISIS occupation of [Ramadi] because they did not answer our demands,” says Suleiman al-Kubaisi, a spokesperson for Anbar’s provincial council. “They did not send reinforcements — neither ammunition or weapons.”

Ramadi and Anbar province was a battleground between 2003 and 2006 as the Sunnis including al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner of ISIS, took on U.S.-led coalition forces.

After Iraqi forces, flanked with thousands of mostly Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia retook the city of Tikrit from ISIS in March, it seemed like a turning point in the war against ISIS.

“Tirkit was not like Stalingrad,” says Pollack. He says the U.S. needs to make a greater investment in Iraqi ground operations. “We knew all along this was not a war that could be won with air power alone.”

Since Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi took over from Nuri al-Maliki last year, he has been promising reforms for the disaffected Sunni population, but little has changed. “We are waiting, and as we were waiting, Ramadi fell,” says Alaa Makki, a former Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament and senior advisor to the government.

Key to defeating ISIS is getting Iraqi Sunnis to fight with government, but Baghdad has not persuaded them that they are serious. “You’ve got to show the Sunnis that the future of Iraq — the one that they are fighting for — is one that to them is going to be worth fighting for,” says Pollack.

While billions of dollars have been put into military operations against ISIS, little has been invested in political change that could end the sense of marginalization felt by Sunnis and in turn, possibly unite them against ISIS. “There should be real reconciliation among the Iraqis… whatever we bring in forces and weapons won’t matter without a political agreement,” says Makki. “If they continue like this, it’s likely that Baghdad could fall.”

TIME Iraq

Key Iraqi City of Ramadi Falls to ISIS

Displaced Iraqis from Ramadi rest before crossing the Bzebiz bridge after spending the night walking towards Baghdad, as they flee their hometown on May 16, 2015.
Hadi Mizban—AP Displaced Iraqis from Ramadi rest before crossing the Bzebiz bridge after spending the night walking towards Baghdad, as they flee their hometown on May 16, 2015.

The militant group seized control of the city on Sunday

(BAGHDAD) — The Islamic State group seized control of the city of Ramadi on Sunday, sending Iraqi forces racing out of the city in a major loss despite the support of U.S.-led airstrikes targeting the extremists.

Online video showed Humvees, trucks and other equipment purportedly speeding out of Ramadi, with some soldiers gripping onto their sides. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered security forces not to abandon their posts across Anbar province, apparently fearing the extremists could capture the entirety of the vast Sunni province that saw intense fighting after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

The retreat recalled the collapse of Iraqi police and military forces last summer, when the Islamic State group’s initial blitz into Iraq saw it capture about a third of the country. It also calls into questions American officials hopes of relying solely on airstrikes to support the Iraqi forces in expelling the extremists.

“Ramadi has fallen,” said Muhannad Haimour, a spokesman for the governor of Anbar province. “The city was completely taken. … It was a gradual deterioration. The military is fleeing.”

Earlier Sunday, al-Abadi also ordered Shiite militias to prepare to go into the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, ignoring worries their presence could spark sectarian bloodshed apparently over fears the extremists could seize more territory.

The final push by the extremists began earlier Sunday, when police and army officials said four nearly simultaneous bombings targeted police officers defending the Malaab district in southern Ramadi, killing 10 and wounding 15. Among the dead was Col. Muthana al-Jabri, the chief of the Malaab police station, they said.

Later on, police said three suicide bombers drove their explosive-laden cars into the gate of the Anbar Operation Command, the military headquarters for the province, killing five soldiers and wounding 12.

Fierce clashes erupted between security forces and Islamic State militants following the attacks. Islamic State militants later seized Malaab after government forces withdrew, with the militants saying they now held the military headquarters.

A police officer who was in Malaab said retreating forces left behind about 30 army vehicles and weapons that included artillery and assault rifles. He said some two dozen police officers also went missing during the fighting.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to talk to journalists.

On a militant website frequented by Islamic State members, a message from the group claimed its fighters held the 8th Brigade army base, as well as tanks and missile launchers left behind by fleeing soldiers. The message, while it could not be independently verified by The Associated Press, was similar to others released by the group and was spread online by known supporters of the extremists.

The new setback came only a day after Baghdad’s decision to send reinforcements to help its battered forces in Ramadi.

Al-Abadi’s comments were carried on state television, which did not elaborate on the situation in Ramadi or elsewhere in Anbar province. Iraqi warplanes also launched airstrikes on Islamic State positions inside Ramadi on Sunday, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said, without elaborating.

Later, the military issued a statement also calling on its forces not to abandon Anbar province.

“Victory will be in the side of Iraq because Iraq is defending its freedom and dignity,” the military said. It did not offer any details about the ongoing fighting.

Last week, the militants swept through Ramadi, seizing the main government headquarters and other key parts of the city. It marked a major setback for the Iraqi government’s efforts to drive the militants out of areas they seized last year. Previous estimates suggested the Islamic State group held at least 65 percent of the vast Anbar province.

Backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters have made gains against the Islamic State group, including capturing the northern city of Tikrit. But progress has been slow in Anbar, a Sunni province where anger at the Shiite-led government runs deep and where U.S. forces struggled for years to beat back a potent insurgency. American soldiers fought some of their bloodiest battles since Vietnam on the streets of Fallujah and Ramadi.

U.S. troops were able to improve security in the province starting in 2006 when powerful tribes and former militants turned against al-Qaida in Iraq, a precursor to the Islamic State group, and allied with the Americans.

But the so-called Sunni Awakening movement waned in the years after U.S. troops withdrew at the end of 2011, with the fighters complaining of neglect and distrust from the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

The U.S.-led coalition said Sunday it conducted seven airstrikes in Ramadi in the last 24 hours, as well as three in Fallujah.

“It is a fluid and contested battlefield,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. “We are supporting (the Iraqis) with air power.”

___

Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef and Jon Gambrell in Cairo and Vivian Salama contributed to this report.

TIME jeb bush

Jeb Bush Reverses Himself: ‘I Would Not Have Gone Into Iraq’

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks at a town hall meeting in Tempe, Ariz. on May 14, 2015.
Deanna Dent—Reuters Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks at a town hall meeting in Tempe, Ariz. on May 14, 2015.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sought to turn the page on a week of terrible press coverage Thursday, telling a group of Arizona voters that knowing what is known now, he would not have launched the 2003 Iraq War.

“Knowing what we know now I would not have engaged—I would not have gone into Iraq,” Bush said, in reference to his greatest liability—the unpopular war launched by his brother, former President George W. Bush.

It was the latest turn in a tumultuous week that began with an interview with Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Saturday in which he said he would have supported going to war, even knowing that the Iraqi government did not possess weapons of mass destruction. “My mind kind of calculated it differently,” Bush later explained, saying he misheard Kelly’s question.

On Wednesday, Bush dodged the same question Kelly asked him days earlier, saying he wouldn’t answer “hypotheticals” and that the question did a “disservice” to the memories of the 4,491 American war dead.

But that didn’t put the questions to rest, Bush’s Republican opponents lined up to criticize him for the comments, while Democrats gleefully used the opportunity to tie him to his brother.

“If we knew then what we know now and I were the President of the United States, I wouldn’t have gone to war,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNN Tuesday. Sen. Rand Paul told the Associated Press that Bush’s comments represent “a real problem if he can’t articulate what he would have done differently.”

“Knowing what we know now, of course we wouldn’t go into Iraq,” Sen. Ted Cruz told The Hill.

Sen. Marco Rubio went even further in an interview Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Not only would I have not been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it. He said so,” he said.

Bush’s reversal may put the controversy to rest temporarily, but it only further highlights the challenges the entire Republican field with respect to talking about the conflict.

In a gaggle with reporters after his remarks, Bush maintained that the war was “worth it” for the families of the war dead.

“It was worth it for those families,” he said. “It was worth it for the people that made major sacrifices. In 2008 Iraq was stable. It was fragile, but it was stable. It was because of the heroic efforts of a lot of people. And re-litigating this and going through hypotheticals I think does no good to them.”

Bush said that after the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the U.S. must “re-engage” in Iraq beyond what President Obama has done.

“I think we need to re-engage and do it in a more forceful way,” Bush said. “The president is very reluctant for whatever reason to make a clear commitment that we should have kept 5,000, 10,000 troops there.”

He acknowledged that there has been success countering ISIS since Obama ordered airstrikes and deployed trainers to assist Iraqi forces last year, but said more has to be done. “We can’t do it by drones. We have to be there to train the military and to do the things that are being done right now. And I believe that if we had stayed the course in that, if we do, we will be successful.”

Read more: Why Presidential Candidates Must Answer Hypotheticals

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