Thursday 29 September 2016

Iraqi army prepares for final push to take Ramadi from Islamic State

Reuters

Published 27/12/2015 | 10:27

Smoke rises after Iraqi Security forces blew up a car bomb belonging to a suicide bomber with Islamic State group at Huz neighborhood in downtown Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015.
(AP Photo/Osama Sami)
Smoke rises after Iraqi Security forces blew up a car bomb belonging to a suicide bomber with Islamic State group at Huz neighborhood in downtown Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Osama Sami)
In this Friday, Dec. 25, 2015 photo, a bulldozer removes fortifications set by the Islamic State group as Iraqi Security forces advance their position in downtown Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo)
In this Friday, Dec. 25, 2015 photo, smoke rises from Islamic State positions following a U.S.-led coalition airstrike as Iraqi Security forces advance their position in downtown Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo)

Iraqi troops were getting ready on Sunday for a final push to take the remaining district held by Islamic State in the city of Ramadi, army spokesmen said.

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Recapturing Ramadi, which fell to the militants in May, would be one of the most significant victories for Iraq's armed forces since Islamic State swept across a third of the country in 2014.

In this Friday, Dec. 25, 2015 photo, smoke rises from Islamic State positions following a U.S.-led coalition airstrike as Iraqi Security forces advance their position in downtown Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq.
(AP Photo)
In this Friday, Dec. 25, 2015 photo, smoke rises from Islamic State positions following a U.S.-led coalition airstrike as Iraqi Security forces advance their position in downtown Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo)
In this Friday, Dec. 25, 2015 photo, a bridge destroyed by the Islamic State group to block Iraqi security forces from moving forward in Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq (AP Photo)
In this Friday, Dec. 25, 2015 photo, smoke rises from Islamic State positions following a U.S.-led coalition airstrike as Iraqi Security forces advance their position in downtown Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad. (AP Photo)

The soldiers are within 300 meters (330 yards) of the provincial government compound, the target of the attack they launched on Tuesday, Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for the counter-terrorism force that is leading the fight on the government side, said.

WWe expect to reach the compound in the next 24 hours,'' he told Reuters.

A collapsed bridge is seen in Ramadi city, December 26, 2015. Picture taken December 26, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer
A collapsed bridge is seen in Ramadi city, December 26, 2015. Picture taken December 26, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer
Iraqi Security forces enter the heavy damaged Huz neighborhood in downtown Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015. Iraqi forces entered the Huz at dawn, an area housing a government compound in the center of Ramadi, part of a major offensive aimed at dislodging the Islamic State terrorist militia from the western city, an Iraqi official said. (AP Photo/Osama Sami)

"Booby trapped houses and roadside bombs are all over the streets, they have to be cleared; air surveillance is helping detect car bombs and suicide bombers before they get to us.''

Ramadi is the capital of the mainly Sunni Muslim Anbar province in the fertile Euphrates River valley, just two hours drive west of Baghdad.

If the offensive in Ramadi succeeds, it will be the second main city to be retaken by the Iraqi government after Tikrit, in April. Officials said it would be handed over to the local police and to a Sunni tribal force once secured.

Ramadi was Islamic State's biggest prize of 2015, abandoned by government forces in May in a major setback for Baghdad and for the Iraqi troops trained by the United States since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The Iraqi government forces are backed by air support from an international coalition led by the United States.

Shi'ite militias backed by Iran, which have played a major role in other offensive against Islamic State, have been kept away by the Iraqi government from the battlefield in Ramadi to avoid sectarian tensions.

Smoke rises during an air strike in Ramadi city, December 26, 2015. Picture taken December 26, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer
Smoke rises during an air strike in Ramadi city, December 26, 2015. Picture taken December 26, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer
Smoke rises during an air strike in Ramadi city, December 26, 2015. Picture taken December 26, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

After Ramadi, the army plans to move to retake the northern city of Mosul, the biggest population centre under Islamic State control in Iraq and Syria.

Dislodging the militants from Mosul, which had a pre-war population close to 2 million, would effectively abolish their state structure in Iraq and deprive them of a major source of funding, which comes partly from oil and partly from fees and taxes on residents.

On another front in Anbar, the army took several positions in Nuaimiya, south of the city of Falluja, a bastion of the group that lies between Baghdad and Ramadi, killing 23 militants, the spokesman for the joint operations Brigadier Yahya Rasool said.

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