Iraqi forces have retaken a strategic government complex in the western city of Ramadi from the Islamic State following a battle which lasted for a week.
The Iraqi flag was raised on top of the government compound in central Ramadi by the troops. Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for the Iraqi military, said the following.
“The security forces have entered the governmental buildings and raised the Iraqi flags over them after killing many ISIS militants, and the rest have escaped…”
Iraqi TV broadcasted the celebrations by the soldiers. There were sounds of explosions and gunfire in the background, Humvee vehicles and tanks progressing through Ramadi streets amid piles of rubble and collapsed houses.
Col. Steven H. Warren, the United States military spokesman in Baghdad, said the following in a statement.
“The clearance of the government center is a significant accomplishment and is the result of many months of hard work by the Iraqi Army, the Counterterrorism Service, the Iraqi Air Force, local and federal police, and tribal fighters. Today’s success is a proud moment for Iraq.”
RAMADI: My statement on Ramadi success today. pic.twitter.com/NXFqaFUofC
— COL Steve Warren (@OIRSpox) December 28, 2015
The Iraqi forces had been supported by over 600 coalition airstrikes since July. On Sunday alone, coalition planes launched three airstrikes over Ramadi, hitting 18 targets.
Iraq’s Vice President, Nouri al-Maliki, congratulated the armed forces and the people of Iraq on the liberation of Ramadi from Islamic State (ISIS) militants, missing the mention of the U.S.-led coalition air support. In a statement, the former prime minister said the following of the army.
“The loss of Ramadi would be the most significant in a string of recent defeats for the Islamic State. It is the capital of Anbar and also its most populous city.”
Ramadi has been one of the most significant cities under the Islamic State’s control along with Raqqa, Mosul, and Fallujah, which is located between Ramadi and the capital, Baghdad. Reasserting control over Ramadi would allow Iraq to cut off supply lines to Fallujah and would make it very difficult for the Islamic State to continue to hold that city.
It would also give a much-needed lift to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has tried to reach out to the country’s large Sunni minority, unlike his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, who is now the Vice President of Iraq. He congratulated the armed forces and the people of Iraq on the liberation of Ramadi from Islamic State (ISIS) militants, missing the mention of the U.S.-led coalition air support. He credited the success to anti-terrorism squad and the Iraqi air force.
“We salute our heroes that returned the trust of their people and proved the power of success when the forces are united.”
The Guardian reported that Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi expert who advises the government on ISIS, said the following.
“The liberation of the government complex will be the falling domino that leads to the fall of the rest of the districts.”
Another military commander, Maj. Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, later said that there were still pockets of resistance in about 30 percent of the city.
Heavy fighting was reported in the downtown neighborhood of Huz, as well as in the communities of Sajariya and Sufiya, on the eastern outskirts of the city, and Albu Ghanim, to the north. Islamic State fighters captured those villages in April before advancing on the center of Ramadi.
The fighters from the Islamic State fled the government compound around midday. Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Belawi, the leader of a battalion of tribal fighters, told the Associated Press that the militants stopped returning fire from inside the Ramadi government compound around 8 a.m. “We believe that they were either killed or fled,” he said.
CNN reported that fighting in and around the city is likely to continue for some time, analysts say. ISIS is expected to stage ambushes in outlying suburbs, to prevent the city’s pacification and rehabilitation.
In the view of the Institute for the Study of War, “Ramadi will remain exposed to counterattacks by ISIS, particularly from the north from ISIS-held Hit district, if (Iraqi security forces) shift forces away from Ramadi to focus on other operations.”
The government said the next target after Ramadi will be the northern city of Mosul, the largest population center controlled by Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria.
[Photo by Getty Images]