Iraqi forces in operation to retake Ramadi

Iraqi forces in operation to retake Ramadi

Iraqi forces said they have liberated a number of neighbourhoods in the southern part of the city of Ramadi and started a campaign to clear them out of bombs left behind by retreating militants of the Islamic State.

No ground advance was made as the troops focused on clearing explosives, a local commander said, asking not be identified. The troops secured the vicinity of the district captured on Tuesday, Hay al-Dhubbat.

Progress has also been slow because the government wants to rely entirely on its own troops and not use Shi’ite militias in order to avoid rights abuses such as occurred after the recapture of Tikrit from the militants in April.

Members of the Counter-Terrorism Units said that that only few days are needed to retake Ramadi, the city whose fall in May exposed the weakness of the Baghdad government and dampened hopes of restoring control in the north and west

“Few days only and we will liberate the whole city of Ramadi. Only small distance separates them from us. We are watching them (militants of Islamic State) coming out. We have killed many of them and our snipers have taken positions on the roofs of the houses of Ramadi. God willing, we will liberate Ramadi soon,” said a member of the Counter-Terrorism Units as he aimed his rifle from a hole in wall of a roof of a building.

Iraqi troops began advancing on Tuesday in an offensive complicated by rivalries and suspicions harboured by local Sunni tribes and by Shi’ite militia backed by Iran. U.S. officials, concerned also by militant operations over the border in Syria, have expressed frustration at delays in seizing back the city.

Coalition air forces pounded positions held by Islamic State in Ramadi on Thursday, Iraqi military statements said, in support of government troops seeking to retake the western Iraqi city and push on to drive the militants from key population centres.

Warplanes from the US-led coalition carried out 27 strikes against insurgent position in the last district they hold in the centre of the Sunni Muslim city, which lies on the river Euphrates some 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, according to a military statement on state TV.

The long-awaited drive to dislodge the militants from Ramadi, the loss of which in May dealt a blow to government efforts to root out Islamic State, started early on Tuesday. Army commanders said on Wednesday the battle would take several days.

If captured, Ramadi will be the second major city after Tikrit to be retaken from Islamic State in Iraq. Success would provide a major psychological boost to Iraqi security forces after the militant group seized a third of Iraq, a major OPEC oil producer and U.S ally, in a sweeping advance last year.

Local Sunni tribes have not been involved directly in the assault, but have been active in support activities across the province – a contrast to the U.S.-backed Tribal Awakening campaign 10 years ago when they united to drive al Qaeda elements from Anbar.

The ultimate aim for the government is to drive Islamic State from Mosul, Iraq’s largest northern city, and Falluja, which lies between Ramadi and Baghdad, as well as large areas of Syria – the core of what it has declared to be a caliphate.

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