Iraqi forces, backed by Shiite militias controlled by Iran, are advancing into the center of Ramadi, a city that has been for months controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.
The two sides are reigniting a battle that temporarily ceased in May, when the Iraqi army fled Ramadi following an ISIS assault on the city.
Iraqi forces and Iran-backed militia members are being supported by the U.S. air force in their effort to take back the city, according to Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for Iraq’s Counterterrorism Service.
The final encroachment on Ramadi comes following months of preparations to take back the city. In November, Iraqi forces cut off supply routes to and from Ramadi in an attempt to isolate Islamic State from its other strongholds in Anbar province, Iraq, and in Syria, where the jihadi group holds vast swaths of territory.
Numani said the raid on Ramadi began at dawn on Tuesday, and coalition forces had made progress towards a government complex in the middle of the city.
“We went into the center of Ramadi from several fronts and we began purging residential areas,” he told AFP. “The city will be cleared in the coming 72 hours,” Numani predicted.
So far, the Islamic State has not chosen to engage in direct battle with the Iraqi and Iran-backed ground troops.
“Our forces reached the Bakr neighborhood. We did not face strong resistance — only snipers and suicide bombers, and this is a tactic we expected,” the Iraqi spokesman said.
But they do not expect to face much resistance in the long-run, as only 250 to 300 Islamic State fighters remain inside Ramadi, according to the BBC, which cited Iraqi intelligence estimates. The New York Times reports that their numbers have been cut in half since the Ramadi offensive commenced in late November.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Steven H. Warren echoed the sentiments expressed by his Iraqi counterpart, telling the New York Times that troops “are moving into the city center.”
There have been reports of casualties on both sides.
Some 14 coalition soldiers along with 17 tribal warriors were killed when a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle in the city’s northwest. Additionally, at least a dozen ISIS militants have been killed in Monday’s battles, according to reports.
The effort may take some time. Unnamed Iraqi security officials have claimed that ISIS is resorting to using human shields as a means to gain a tactical advantage against their opponents.
“It’s a slow process,” the Pentagon spokesman said recently of the fight to take back areas held by ISIS. “And urban fighting is tough.”