US President Barack Obama has described the loss of key Iraqi territory to Islamic State as a tactical setback, while insisting the war against the jihadist group is not being lost.
"I don't think we're losing," Obama said in an interview with news magazine The Atlantic published Thursday, days after the Iraqi city of Ramadi was overrun.
Shia militias converged on Ramadi Monday in a bid recapture it from jihadists who dealt the Iraqi government a stinging blow by overrunning the city in a deadly three-day blitz.
The loss of the capital of Iraq's largest province was Baghdad's worst military setback since it started clawing back territory from the jihadists late last year.
Days after a rare message from ISIS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urging mass mobilization, the group also came close to also seizing one of Syria's most famed heritage sites, ancient Palmyra, but the army pinned it back.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had been reluctant to deploy Shia militias to Anbar province for fear of alienating its overwhelmingly Sunni Arab population.
He favored developing locally recruited forces, a policy that had strong US support.
But militia commanders said on Monday that Ramadi's fall had shown that the government could not do without the so-called Popular Mobilization units (Hashed al-Shaabi) – am alliance of Iranian-backed Shia Islamist militias regularly criticized for carrying out war crimes comparable to those of ISIS.