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The New Arab

Iraqi troops force IS out of last Ramadi stronghold

Iraqi rapid response forces inspect military equipment in Ramadi's Tash neighbourhood, 27 December, 2015 [AFP]

Date of publication: 27 December, 2015

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Islamic State group fighters have left a key compound in central Ramadi after they were surrounded by Iraqi forces, in a significant development that could see the city liberated soon.
Iraqi security forces, supported by Anbar tribesmen, are close to taking control of one of the last Islamic State group strongholds in Ramadi, the force's spokesperson has said.

Elite troops and tribal fighters managed to move in on the key government compound in the city centre on Sunday, after being slowed down for days by IS snipers, suicide bombers and booby traps.

A joint assault managed to break the IS defences, and forced them to leave the former government compound in Ramadi, the spokesman of the elite counter-terrorism service said on Sunday.

"All Daesh (IS) fighters have left. There is no resistance," Sabah al-Numan said.

"Our forces have surrounded the government complex. They are checking all entrances and surrounding buildings before moving in."

A Sunni tribal leader fighting IS, Sheikh Ghanem al-Ayfan, told The New Arab reporter Aktham Saif al-Din that government forces were able to "achieve their planned goals".

He pointed out that they had "opened another battlefront in northern Ramadi" and were able to "penetrate IS defences and make an incursion towards the city centre from the north side".
All Daesh (IS) fighters have left. There is no resistance
- Counter terrorism service spokesman Sabah al-Numan

The seizure of the government complex in the al-Huz neighbourhood will go a long way towards ensuring a full recapture of Ramadi.

Elite counter-terrorism forces and army troops backed by Iraqi and US-led coalition air strikes vastly outnumbered the few holed up IS fighters in the complex. They will now make a final push to retake the city they lost in May.

Al-Huz neighbourhood has been cleared of most booby traps and roadside bombs according to Numani.

US-led coalition airstrikes helped detonate explosive devices and the advance of Iraqi forces has helped reveal more IS positions, making them easier targets for coalition air forces.

Sheikh Ayfan who had expected the Iraqi forces to take control of the compound this soon told The New Arab: "The morale of [IS fighters] has collapsed as they were confronted with the determination and high coordination of security forces and international coalition air forces."

Security expert Wathiq al-Obeidi told The New Arab that the Iraqi forces are using a good tactic against IS fighters. He said that attacking IS from different fronts in Ramadi will confuse their ranks and disperse them.

"The security forces first concentrated their attacks on the government complex and made [IS] focus all their efforts on repelling these attacks," he said. However, IS is now being confronted from multiple fronts that will "disperse its forces and contribute to a quick end to the battle," Obeidi added.

The number of IS fighters hunkered down in central Ramadi was estimated at the start of the operation on Tuesday at no more than 400.

Anbari civilians

The government forces' advance has also been hampered by the possible presence of families trapped in the combat zone and used by IS as human shields.

Dozens of families were thought to still be in combat areas, officials said on Friday.

Civilians who escaped said after being taken by the army to camps east of Ramadi that there was little food for those left behind.

One of them said he and his family were rescued after retreating IS fighters used them as human shields to leave the city.

"More than 250 families residing in Ramadi have been able to get out of the city since the beginning of military operations" on Tuesday, said Ali Dawood, an official from the neighbouring Khaldiya district.

He said some of them were in camps with other displaced people in Anbar while others headed to Baghdad or the northern autonomous Kurdish region.

According to the International Organization for Migration, Anbaris account for over a third of the 3.2 million Iraqis who have been forced from their homes since January 2014.

Government forces held off months of IS assaults in Ramadi until May 2015, when the extremist group blitzed their opponents with massive suicide car bombs and seized full control of the city.

That defeat was Baghdad's worst in the war against IS, and a victory now would provide a welcome boost to the much-criticised federal forces.

In June 2014, IS launched a massive offensive in June 2014 in northern Iraq and led to a collapse of Iraqi army divisions there.

The fightback has often been laborious and poisoned by political wrangling, but Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said a week ago that Iraqi forces had reclaimed half of the territory lost to IS last year.

Agencies contributed to this report

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