The Iraqi army says it is close to completely recapturing the provincial capital of Ramadi from Islamic State after months of fighting, in what has become a war of attrition for the city that was the biggest prize taken by the terrorist group this year.
Iraqi troops advanced in the Hoz neighborhood towards the provincial government compound overnight, Iraqi army spokesman Brigadier Yahya Rasool said.
“The counter-terrorism forces are within 800 meters from the government complex,” advancing about one kilometer in the past day, Rasool said.
“Air strikes helped detonate explosive devices and booby-trapped houses, facilitating our advance,” he added.
Ramadi fell into the hands of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in May after about a week of fighting. The Iraqi army has been trying to retake the city, which located in the Anbar province in the fertile Euphrates River valley, ever since.
The fight was made more difficult by tensions between the Shiite government in Baghdad and leaders of the local militias in the predominantly Sunni province. Iraq has gone through years of sectarian violence since the US invasion deposed Saddam Hussein’s minority Sunni regime and installed a majority Shiite government.
In the struggle between Baghdad and the radical Sunni jihadists of Islamic State, Sunni tribal forces have remained mostly neutral and uncooperative with respect to the central government, leading to accusations of collaboration.
The Ramadi offensive has been supported by airstrikes from the US-led coalition, but Iran-backed Shiite militias, which have played a major part in anti-IS efforts elsewhere in Iraq, have not been involved. Baghdad has pledged to hand the city over to local police and tribal forces after completely recapturing it from the jihadists.
The Iraqi army plans to focus on Mosul, IS’ Iraqi capital, after Ramadi is in their hands.
“The liberation of dear Mosul will be achieved with the cooperation and unity of all Iraqis after the victory in Ramadi,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Friday.
Baghdad would not set a deadline for ending the Ramadi siege.