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Iran-backed Shia militias have been sent by the Iraqi government to Ramadi to recapture the city seized by Islamic State (ISIS) militants on May 17.

About 500 people are reported to have died when the Iraqi military abandoned positions in Ramadi – only 70 miles West of Baghdad.

A regional government official spoke of people fleeing Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, “in great numbers”.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

The US has said it is confident the capture of Ramadi can be reversed.

Speaking in South Korea, Secretary of State John Kerry said: “I am convinced that as the forces are redeployed and as the days flow in the weeks ahead that’s going to change.”

The Shia militias, known as the Popular Mobilization (Hashid Shaabi), were key to the recapture from ISIS of another city, Tikrit, north of Baghdad, in April. But their use has raised concern in the US and elsewhere.

The militias pulled out of Tikrit following reports of widespread violence and looting.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Defense Minister, Hossein Dehghan, has arrived in Baghdad on a visit arranged before the latest developments in Ramadi.

The police and military made a chaotic retreat from Ramadi, which has been contested for months, after days of intense fighting.

A statement purportedly from ISIS said its fighters had “purged the entire city”. It said ISIS had taken the 8th Brigade army base, along with tanks and missile launchers left behind by troops.

Saddam Hussein’s tomb has been almost completely destroyed in fighting near Tikrit, Iraq.

Footage filmed by the Associated Press shows that all that remains standing of the once-lavish mausoleum in the village of al-Awja are some pillars.

Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia militia are battling to drive Islamic State (ISIS) militants from Tikrit.

In 2014, the local Sunni population said they had removed the former Iraqi leader’s body and taken it to an unknown location.

The capture of the tomb came as fighting intensified north and south of Tikrit on March 15 as Iraqi security forces vowed to reach the city centre within 48 hours.

The footage shows the mausoleum, south of the city, reduced to concrete rubble.

Poster-sized pictures of Saddam Hussein that once covered the tomb have been replaced with Shia militia flags and pictures of militia leaders, including Iranian General Qassem Soleimani who advises the Shia militias.Saddam Hussein’s tomb almost destroyed in Tikrit fighting

There are suspicions among many in Iraq’s Sunni community that Saddam Hussein’s tomb was deliberately destroyed by the Shia militias.

AP said that its crew was embedded with the Iraqi military and may have been subject to reporting restrictions.

“This is one of the areas where ISIS militants massed the most because Saddam’s grave is here,” said Captain Yasser Numa, an official with the militias.

“The ISIS militants set an ambush for us by planting bombs around.”

ISIS said in August 2014 that the tomb had been completely destroyed but local officials denied this, saying it had been ransacked and suffered only minor damage.

Saddam Hussein, who was from Tikrit, was captured by US forces in 2003.

An Iraqi tribunal convicted him of crimes against humanity for the killings of Shia Muslims and Kurds and hanged him in 2006. Saddam Hussein’s body had been kept in the mausoleum since 2007.

The mausoleum featured a marble octagon with a bed of fresh flowers at the centre, covering the place where Saddam Hussein’s body was buried.

According to Iraqi media, loyalists removed Saddam Hussein’s remains last year amid fears that it would be disturbed in the fighting.

Tikrit was overrun by ISIS in June 2014 and several hundred militants are believed to be holding out there.

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