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Iraqi forces inching towards full recapture of Ramadi

By AFP - Dec 26,2015 - Last updated at Dec 26,2015

Iraqi counterterrorism forces drive a tank past rubble south of Anbar province’s capital Ramadi on Thrusday (AFP photo)

BAGHDAD — Die-hard militants made a desperate last stand Saturday in Ramadi's former government complex, the main remaining target of Iraqi forces reconquering the city they lost in May.

After a push on Tuesday that broke the Daesh terror group's defences around the city centre, government forces were slowed by snipers, booby traps, roadside bombs and suicide attackers.

Initial hopes of a quick victory faded but Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) and the army have advanced steadily through the devastated capital of Anbar province.

They reached a key intersection in the Hoz neighbourhood, home to the government complex, whose seizure would go a long way towards ensuring a full recapture of Ramadi.

"CTS has cleared Hoz neighbourhood in central Ramadi completely and arrived near the government complex," spokesman Sabah Al Numan told AFP.

Iraq's war media cell, which speaks on behalf of the interior and defence ministries as well as the paramilitary groups fighting against Daesh, said the extremists’ use of improvised explosive devices had forced a shift in strategy.

“The plan was to enter Hoz from Dhubbat but because of the mines, CTS changed track and came in from the river bank,” a statement said.

The latest fighting left at least two members of the security forces dead and nine wounded, according to police Captain Ahmed Al Dulaimi.

At least three were killed on Friday, according to several senior officers and local officials.

The figures they provide for Daesh casualties are high, with at least 23 killed on Friday alone.

The number of Daesh militants hunkered down in central Ramadi was estimated at the start of the operation five days ago at no more than 400.

 

 Boost for military 

 

“You have the 8th Iraqi Army and CTS and they’re all pushing forward,” said Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the US-led coalition supporting Iraqi forces in Ramadi with daily air strikes.

“CTS have made more progress; they’re several hundred metres closer to the government complex,” Warren said.

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

Officials said Friday dozens of families were thought to still be in combat areas.

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

One of them said he and his family were rescued after Daesh militants retreating from the battle zone used them as human shields to make their way out of the city.

Government forces held off months of Daesh assaults in Ramadi until May 2015, when the jihadists 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 Daesh, and a victory now would provide a welcome boost to the much-criticised federal forces.

The army completely collapsed when Daesh launched a massive offensive in June 2014.

 

The fightback has often been labourious 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 Daesh last year.

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