Iraqi Forces Drive Islamic State Fighters From Ramadi Stronghold


December 28, 2015

The Iraqi army says it has "liberated" the strategic city of Ramadi from Islamic State (IS), handing government forces a major victory against the extremist group.

Iraqi state TV showed government forces raising the national flag over the main government complex, and pro-government fighters parading through the streets after recapturing the Sunni-majority city they lost to IS militants in May.

"The city of Ramadi has been liberated," Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasul announced on state television on December 28. "The homeland is honored and a new history is started."

Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar Province, expressed caution, however. He said IS fighters maintained control over parts of Ramadi, the provincial capital.

"The troops only entered the government complex," Mahlawi told the Associated Press. "We can't say that Ramadi is fully liberated. There are still neighborhoods under their control and there are still resistance pockets."

The Iraqi military launched a campaign to retake Ramadi, located around 130 kilometers west of Baghdad, last week. But its progress had been slowed by snipers, booby traps, and the destruction by IS militants of all major bridges leading to Ramadi.

There were an estimated 400 IS fighters in Ramadi when the government launched its campaign last week. It is not clear how many were killed or how many were able to pull back to positions outside the city.

The Iraqi military has also not revealed how many casualties it suffered in the fighting.

If the recapture of Ramadi is confirmed, it would be the second city -- after Tikrit -- to be retaken by the Iraqi military from IS fighters, who control large swaths of northern and western Iraq as well as significant territory in neighboring Syria.

Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, told AP that "today's success is a proud moment for Iraq."

"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 Counter Terrorism Service, the Iraqi Air Force, local and federal police, and tribal fighters," Warren said.

The government has said the next target after Ramadi will be the northern city of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the largest population center controlled by IS militants in either Iraq or Syria.