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Iraqi troops storm into centre of IS held Ramadi

Iraqi army and anti-terrorism units have pushed into Ramadi [AFP]

Date of publication: 22 December, 2015

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Iraqi forces stormed the centre of Ramadi on Tuesday in a drive to dislodge Islamic State militants from their remaining stronghold in a city they captured in May.

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

Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the US military in Baghdad, said there are 250 to 350 IS fighters in Ramadi, as well as several hundred outside the city on the northern and western perimeter.

"I think the fall of Ramadi is inevitable," Warren told Pentagon reporters. "But that said, it's going to be a tough fight ... it's gonna take some time."

He said American military advisers remained outside the city at al-Taqaddum, a desert air base that is serving as a training site. It was a US military hub during the 2003-2011 war.

Iraqi counter-terrorism spokesman Sabah al-Numan said troops crossed the Euphrates River north of the city and its Warar tributary to the west and pushed into downtown Ramadi.

From the south, troops led by the counter-terrorism agency made progress in the Dubbat and Aramil neighborhoods, about 2 miles from the city centre, according to Gen. Ismail al-Mahallawi, the head of operations in Anbar province.

Since overrunning Ramadi, 80 miles west of Baghdad, the Islamic State group has destroyed all the bridges around the city.

Sporadic clashes broke out and advancing Iraqi forces were forced to remove roadside bombs planted by the extremists, al-Numan added.

On Tuesday, the Dubbat neighborhood saw heavy fighting, with one soldier killed and 14 wounded, said an official in the Anbar operations room, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief the media.

'Sectarian war'

Warren said US officials found a pamphlet in Fallujah that was distributed to IS fighters, calling on them to disguise themselves as Iraqi security forces and then film themselves committing atrocities, such as killing and torturing civilians and blowing up mosques.

According to a copy of the document distributed to reporters, it said the video clips should be distributed to television outlets "to depict the conflict as if it is a sectarian war."

The document was signed by a security and military official named Abu Hajer al-Issawi and dated early October.

Warren said he believed the document is legitimate, but so far there were no reports of IS fighters posing as Iraqi forces.

If the attack to capture Ramadi succeeds, it will be the second major city after Tikrit to be retaken from Islamic State in Iraq..

Al-Numan said no paramilitary forces - a reference to the Shia-led Popular Mobilisation Units - were taking part in the operation.

The Iraqi air force and the US-led international coalition were providing air support to troops on ground and bombing IS targets, he said.

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 get out, but coalition officials report that so far they have only witnessed small groups doing so.

Warren said Iraqi forces had dropped leaflets telling residents what routes to use to escape.

If the attack to capture Ramadi succeeds, it will be the second major city after Tikrit to be retaken from Islamic State in Iraq.

Islamic State also controls Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, and Falluja, which lies between Ramadi and Baghdad.

Retaking Ramadi would provide a major psychological boost to Iraqi security forces after Islamic State seized a third of Iraq, a major OPEC oil producer and US ally, last year.

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