The self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has reportedly shifted base from Mosul to Ramadi in Iraq, and has begun an overhaul to replace foreign leaders with locals, Iraqi media reported.
Baghdadi reportedly moved to Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, which fell under Isis control earlier this year, to restructure the Islamic State's forces there and launch fresh attacks on Iraqi forces, according to London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.
The Isis chief is replacing foreign and Arab leaders with locals "in an attempt to restructure and prompt the group to once again carry out terrorist operations against the regular army and affiliated militias," the newspaper cited an Iraqi official as saying.
Another Iraqi security officer also confirmed the news of Baghdadi's presence in Ramadi to Iraqinews.com.
"Intelligence information received by the security forces in Anbar revealed that the leader of Isis Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi decided to replace all foreign and Arab leaders in Ramadi by others from the sons of the city....the decision came for fear of those leaders being surrounded and killed in the city, after the progress of the security forces in surrounding the city from the northern and southern axes," the official was quoted saying.
The news comes amidst reports that the United States has halted its operation to aid Iraqi forces in their fight against Isis in the Anbar province.
However, US officials have dismissed the reports, claiming that airstrikes were conducted over Ramadi two days ago.
"Recent news reports alleging that the US-led coalition has halted air operations or military cooperation with Iraqi security forces are simply untrue. On October 2 and 3, the coalition conducted airstrikes across Anbar province, including nine airstrikes in direct support of Iraqi military forces' actions near Ramadi," an official from the US Embassy in Iraq was quoted saying.
US military officials in Baghdad told the media last week that Iraqi forces have not been trained to fight Isis' conventional battleground strategy that includes mining fields with IEDs.
"This is not what we trained the Iraqi army back in the early and middle 2000s to fight against. We trained and built a counterinsurgency army, and this is much more of a conventional fight," US military spokesman Colonel Steve Warren was quoted saying by AFP.