Iraqi troops have regained control of a government complex in Ramadi, officials claimed, drawing closer to ousting Islamic State militants from the Sunni heartland city conquered last summer.
Progress in the gruelling ground offensive launched last week has been slow, with the militants entrenched in a city that remains home to thousands of civilians trapped in the midst of the battle.
Taking control of the central state buildings on Sunday, a site conquered by Isis earlier this year, brings Iraqi troops closer to reversing an embarrassing defeat that saw the capital of Anbar province fall to a few hundred fighters from the terror group in May.
“By controlling the complex this means that they have been defeated in Ramadi,” Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for the government forces, told Reuters. “The next step is to clear pockets that could exist here or there in the city.”
However, a US defence official said on Sunday that it was not clear whether the complex had been regained.
“We are unable to confirm at this time whether or not they have cleared the government center,” a US military official told Reuters, on condition of anonymity.
The assault has been led by members of Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism unit, who have taken the lead in battling the militants and circumventing the booby traps laid down by Isis fighters throughout the city.
“I think the liberation of the government complex will be the falling domino that leads to the fall of the rest of the districts,” said Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi expert who advises the government on Isis.
The expected loss of Ramadi would be the latest in a series of defeats for Isis in recent months in both Iraq and Syria, which has prompted the group’s leader and self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to issue a rare audio recording meant to reassure his followers. (The Guardian)