BAGHDAD, Iraqi government forces have advanced into the center of Ramadi as they continue to diminish the Isis control of the key city.
Counter-terrorism service, Sabah al-Numani said troops and militia men, who received air force support, were clearing residential areas and were heading toward the main government complex in the city, BBC News reported. Iraqi intelligence estimates there are up to 300 IS militants in Ramadi, located about 55 miles west of Baghdad.
Lt. Gen. Othman al-Ghanemi said Monday on Iraqi state television that the “storming of the city of Ramadi, as well as cleansing operations against IS elements” was imminent.
U.S. officials have warned that driving the Islamic State out of Ramadi would take time.
“It’s a slow process,” Col. Steve Warren, U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said during a recent briefing. “And urban fighting is tough.”
Iraqi security forces, backed by Iran-trained Shiite paramilitaries and coalition airstrikes, on Sunday began clearing the Albu Ziyab district in northern Ramadi. The commander of Iraqi forces in Anbar province said encroaching security forces were encountering no resistance by IS militants then.
Iraqi troops in recent weeks have been systematically recapturing Ramadi after IS forces seized the city in May. Security forces earlier this month captured areas of northern and western Ramadi, including the al-Aramil and al-Tameen districts, as well as the Palestine Bridge and Anbar Operations Center. Iraqi officials on Friday said security forces had cleared 70 percent of the city.
However, the gains were not without push-back from the Islamic State. In a tactic favored by the militants, IS forces used suicide car bombs in coordination with infantry attacks in an attempt to regain territory in the city.
The Iraqi government and its allies in the U.S. coalition and Iran-trained Hashid Shaabi are fighting continued offensives to regain territories lost to IS forces that spilled over from Syria last year, particularly in the Anbar, Saladin and Nineveh provinces.
Since mid-July the Iraqi military, the Hashid Shaabi and allied Sunni militias have fought to recapture the Anbar province, especially Ramadi, the provincial capital. Recent thrusts by security forces into the city have produced the most significant gains, but the Islamic State still held much control of the center of the city behind a complex defense of improvised explosive devices and urban strongholds.
Iraqi forces have throughout the year conducted two phases of an offensive in the Saladin province, capturing the provincial capital, Tikrit, in April, and the city of Baiji and its surrounding areas in recent months.
The most significant IS-held city in Iraq is Mosul, capital of the Nineveh province, where Iraqi Peshmerga forces have played a prominent role on the ground against IS militants. The Peshmerga, supported by coalition airstrikes, captured the city of Sinjar last month, cutting off a major road linking Mosul to IS territories in Syria.
Fred Lambert contributed to this report.