Forces surround rebel-held city

BAGHDAD. – Iraqi forces have totally encircled the government complex in Ramadi, the last stronghold of Islamic State militants in the western city, and are about to enter it, joint operations command spokesman Yahya Rasool told Reuters. “We’re clearing the buildings and streets around the complex of bombs in preparation to go in,” he said. “I expect we will go into the complex in about an hour,” he added.

Recapturing Ramadi, which fell to the militants in May, would be one of the most significant victories for Iraq’s armed forces since Islamic State swept across a third of the country in 2014.

The militants “seem to have fled the complex, we’re not encountering any resistance,” said Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for the counter-terrorism units that are leading the fight on the government side.

“We’re seeing lots of Daesh bodies, killed in the air strikes on the compound,” he told Reuters. The Iraqi government forces are backed by air support from an international coalition led by the United States.

Shi’ite militias backed by Iran, which have played a major role in other offensive against Islamic State, have been kept away by the Iraqi government from the battlefield in Ramadi to avoid sectarian tensions.

If the offensive in Ramadi succeeds, it will be the second main city to be retaken from Islamic State after Tikrit, in April. Officials said it would be handed over to the local police and to a Sunni tribal force once secured. After Ramadi, the army plans to move to retake the northern city of Mosul, the biggest population centre under Islamic State control in Iraq and Syria.

Dislodging the militants from Mosul, which had a pre-war population close to 2 million, would effectively abolish their state structure in Iraq and deprive them of a major source of funding, which comes partly from oil and partly from fees and taxes on residents. – Reuters.

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