The Iraqi military, backed by allied tribesmen and U.S. forces, launched a new offensive to retake Ramadi on Monday night. Despite resistance from Islamic State fighters, who have fortified their positions in the city, the operation shows momentum growing – slowly – against the terrorist group that still controls sizeable Iraqi territory.
By late Tuesday at least two neighborhoods, al-Thubat and al-Aramil, in Anbar’s provincial capital were restored to government control. Military engineers constructed a bridge over Euphrates River, helping security forces enter the city center and move closer to former government buildings. Officials hope that their warnings to civilians to leave before the offensive began will help separate them from IS fighters, ultimately allowing the army to clear the whole city of jihadists within 72 hours.
Iraqi soldiers advance their position in northern Ramadi on Monday. (Photo: AP)
Iraqi intelligence indicated that only about 250 to 300 IS militants remained in Ramadi at the start of the operation. Troops encountered suicide bombers and snipers, and there were media reports of booby traps and IEDs in areas vacated by IS fighters. According to Al-Jazeera, 14 Iraqi soldiers and 17 of their tribal allies died in a car bombing on the the city’s northwest while government forces killed 12 militants.
Iraqi soldiers on the ground been have been assisted by U.S. airpower, with the coalition carrying out 12 airstrikes against IS positions. Arab media has also reported that U.S. Special Forces are on the ground for the offensive, but it remains unclear if they are participating as advisors or actively engaged in combat.
The likely capturing of Ramadi will be the second largest city retaken by central government since Tikrit in last spring. The Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad seems to have taken into account the sensitivities of a predominantly Sunni area of western Iraq, fighting along regional tribesman instead of Iranian-back Popular Mobilization Units or Kurdish peshmerga. While other large Iraqi cities, including Mosul, remain under IS control, the retaking of Ramadi with local forces and U.S. support could provide a useful framework for future confrontations with Islamic State.