IRAQ SAYS ARMY STORMING CENTRE OF ISIL-HELD RAMADI
Iraq’s armed forces have started an attack to dislodge the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group from the centre of the key city of Ramadi, the Iraqi army said.
The attack on the capital of Anbar province began on Tuesday morning, Sabah al-Numani, spokesman for the army’s counterterrorism units, told the Reuters news agency.
At the start of the offensive, ISIL mounted an attack with a suicide car bomber against soldiers and Shia militiamen gathered in Bu Dhiyab village north of Ramadi, killing 14 of them, military sources told Al Jazeera. Another 17 soldiers and militiamen were injured in the blast.
In a separate incident, at least eight civilians, including several children, were killed in a series of air strikes on a residential area north of Ramadi, the sources said.
Ramadi, situated about 120km from the capital, Baghdad, was captured by ISIL in May but the Iraqi forces have since managed to claw back some territory.
The army says it controls more than half the city, including a key military command centre.
Ramadi is a crucial city in the fight against ISIL and its capture by the armed group was seen as a very big defeat, Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan said.
“It’s the biggest city in Iraq’s largest province and the heartland of the Sunni community of Iraq. It’s a big trading post for the country as well, with roads leading into Jordan and Syria.”
On Monday, army chief of staff General Othman al-Ghanemi told state television that Iraq’s armed forces would start the operation “very soon”.
“There is an ongoing operation to control a sector in preparation of the onslaught on the city centre within the coming hours, God willing,” he said.
ISIL fighters have had plenty of time to dig in since they took full control of the city on May 17 after blitzing government forces with wave after wave of car and truck bomb attacks.
The group built tunnels to move without being exposed to the coalition’s daily raids but their supply lines were gradually all severed and military officials estimated last week there no more than 300 fighters left in the city.
The breakthrough came earlier this month when Iraq forces broke down ISIL defences and retook the key southwestern neighbourhood of Al-Tameem.
An Iraqi defence ministry spokesman said earlier that ISIL was preventing civilians from leaving Ramadi before the planned attack on the city.
Iraqi military planes on Sunday dropped leaflets on Ramadi, asking residents to leave within 72 hours and indicating safe routes for their exit.