It was the worst defeat for Iraq's elite security forces since the fall of Mosul just under year ago.
The images coming from Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, looked more like a force in defeat rather than a tactical withdrawal.
They fled in the face of a campaign by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, which used firepower, car bombs and brute force for over a year to wear the Iraqi security forces down.
For ISIL it was a big victory.
Reports from Anbar suggest ISIL forces are now massing and gearing up for the next battle. A battle that they have wanted for a long time.
On Monday the Iraqi government announced that it had deployed at least ,3000 Shia militia members to Habbineyeh airbase in Anbar in preparation for an assault on ISIL fighters.
The Iranians have stepped up support for the militias and the US-led coalition has increased air strikes in the last 72 hours on ISIL targets in Ramadi.
A very loose coalition of Iraqi Shia forces, Iranian support and America and the West. It is the war that ISIL have always wanted.
Across ISIL messages boards and social media accounts, ISIL sympathisers have drawn parallels between this conflict and the Battle of Badr fought in 624 CE between the earliest followers of the Prophet Muhammad and the Quraish, the largest tribe in what is now Saudi Arabia.
The Battle of Badr was seen as a turning point in the establishment of Islam and a victory for the prophet.
Whether it was divine intervention or strategic thinking that allowed the followers of the prophet to decisively defeat the Quraish has been much talked about for centuries.
What is clear is that his ancient battle has become the rallying call for ISIL, who now have their three biggest enemies coming together to declare war on them.
For ISIL, the battle to come in Ramadi is every bit as important as the Battle of Badr.
ISIL see the Shia Muslims as "rafida". It is a derogatory term used by some Sunni purists that means "rejecters".
ISIL say the Shia reject true Islamic leadership. The ISIL doctrine is one to defeat the Shia Muslims and firmly establish their "caliphate" as the only legitimate Islamic authority.
They are willing to kill anyone who rejects their legitimacy.
So now the stage is set and Iraqi Shia militia men and ISIL forces are massing.
The Americans have a chance to hit ISIL hard with air strikes and the Iranians have flooded the militias with weaponry and vehicles.
Recent reports from Anbar suggest that ISIL are bringing as many fighters as they can spare.
It is a holy war pure and simple, and ISIL believes that as, in the Battle Of Badr, if they are meant to win, then God will intervene and deliver them victory.
Regionally the war against ISIL has already brought into sharp focus sectarian tensions.
The Americans have been concerned about the use of the Shia militias, mainly because they are backed by Iran and relations between the two countries remain tense.
But it is not as simple Sunni versus Shia. It was the Anbar provincial council that voted in favour of the militias coming to Anbar. Plenty of Sunnis want ISIL out.
But once again ISIL has capitalised on Sunni anger with the Shia-led government to win over some of the local Sunnis.
This, coupled with former Baathist fighters also wanting to topple the government in Baghdad, it is a complex mix of uneasy alliances on all sides that bring us where we are today.
Even if ISIL is defeated in Ramadi, they will spin it as a chapter where the "rafida" and their allies massed against them and use it as propaganda for more recruits and for more support.
ISIL has always wanted this war. The Iraqis have just handed it to them.
|ISIL used firepower, car bombs and brute force for over a year to wear the Iraqi security forces down in Anbar province [AP]
Source: Al Jazeera