Iraq Isis forces storm centre of Ramadi

December 24, 2015 7:47 am

Commanders hope to retake the key provincial capital from .
 


troops cross a bridge built by engineers over the Euphrates River. Isis
had destroyed the bridges leading to central Ramadi. Photo / AP

Iraqi forces broke into Ramadi’s city centre, pushing closer to its
main government buildings in what commanders hope will be a final push
to recapture the key provincial capital from Isis (Islamic State)
militants.
Iraqi forces erected a temporary bridge over a canal
that separated their soldiers from downtown Ramadi, about 130km west of
Baghdad, and used it to launch an offensive, military leaders said.
Iraqi troops got to within a kilometre of the city’s government
compound, they added.

Ramadi represents a key battle for Iraqi forces. The capital
of Anbar province, it is the largest population centre they have tried
to retake from Isis.
Backed by US air power, the offensive also
marks the Iraqi armed forces’ first major battle from which Shia
militias have been largely excluded, testing whether the military can go
it alone.
“We’ve entered the centre,” said Brigadier General
Hamid al-Fatlawi, commander of the Iraqi Army’s 8th Division. Iraqi
forces have encountered “simple” resistance from the militants, he said.
Intercepted
Isis communications in recent weeks had shown that the militants were
increasingly desperate, with leaders imploring their fighters to stay
and resist. The US military estimates that just a few hundred fighters
remain.
Major General Ismail Mahlawi, head of the Anbar
Operations Command, said Isis fighters were acknowledging that they had
“lost control” and were fleeing to the Isis-controlled town of Hit, 48km
to the northwest.
Mahlawi said he expected victory within 48
hours. But despite progress yesterday, much of the city’s centre
remained in the hands of the extremists.
Iraqi commanders have said they believe they can completely retake the city by year’s end.
“We
are very optimistic that we will achieve victory in the next few days,
because we are already in the centre,” said Brigadier General Yahya
Rasoul Abdullah, a spokesman for the Iraqi military.
However, he said the large numbers of roadside bombs and snipers made the battle difficult to predict.
Iraqi forces reported progress on several fronts.
In
a recent interview, Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al-Asadi, the head
of Iraq’s special forces, said he expected it would take around 10 days
to clear the city after his forces crossed the river.
The
recapture of Ramadi would represent the latest in a string of defeats
for the militants and provide a much-needed confidence boost for Iraq’s
military.
However, Iraqi forces have been heavily reliant on US airstrikes as they slowly reclaim territory from the militants.
Many
commanders blamed a lack of US air support for the city’s fall in May,
when a multipronged car bomb attack caused the collapse of the troops
that had withstood Isis attacks for a year and a half.

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