Iraqi troops enter centre of Ramadi in bid to eject Isis

Posted on Posted in World News

Iraqi forces on Tuesday reported progress in the military operation to retake the city of Ramadi from Islamic State, saying they made the most significant incursion into the city since it fell to the militants in May.

The operation to recapture Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, began in November after many months of attempting to cut off supply lines to the city, whose fall to Isis was a major defeat for Iraq’s weak central government.

“Our forces are advancing toward the government complex in the centre of Ramadi,” an Iraqi military spokesman, Sabah al-Numan, said. “The fighting is in the neighbourhoods around the complex, with support from the air force.”

The offensive started at dawn, said Numan. Military units crossed the Euphrates river into the central districts using a bridge that was destroyed by the militants and repaired by army engineers, he said.

“Crossing the river was the main difficulty,” Numan said. “We’re facing sniper fire and suicide bombers who are trying to slow our advance, we’re dealing with them with air force support.”

Numan said Iraqi forces were being forced to remove roadside bombs as they pushed forward.

No paramilitary forces – mostly made up of pro-government Shia militias – are taking part in the operation, according to Numan, but the Iraqi air force and the US-led international coalition are providing air support to ground troops and bombing Isis targets.

Iraqi intelligence estimates the number of Isis fighters entrenched in the centre of Ramadi, capital of the western Anbar province, at between 250 and 300.

Since overrunning Ramadi, Isis has destroyed all the bridges around the city. It also demolished the Anbar operations command and fanned out into the city’s residential areas to set up less conspicuous centres of command.

As the military operation continues, Ramadi’s civilian population – estimated to be between 4,000 and 10,000 – remains mostly trapped inside the city. Iraqi officials say they believe civilians will be able to flee the city, but coalition officials report that so far they have only witnessed small groups doing so.

Ramadi, like the rest of Anbar province, is overwhelmingly Sunni, the minority community that complains of discrimination by the Shia-led government in Baghdad.

If the attack to capture Ramadi succeeds, it will be the second major city after Tikrit to be retaken from Isis in Iraq. The group also controls Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and Falluja, which lies between Ramadi and Baghdad.

Retaking the city would provide a major psychological boost to Iraqi security forces after Isis seized a third of Iraq last year.