Iraqi forces closing in on ISIS in Ramadi, military official says

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RAMADI, Iraq — Iraq’s military is just a half-mile away from the ISIS-held government compound in Ramadi in Iraq’s battle to retake the city from the terrorist group, the head of Iraq’s joint forces said on state television.

Talib Shighati said soldiers are “cleansing” Ramadi’s liberated neighborhoods from ISIS terrorists, a task made more difficult by the many IEDs planted “almost everywhere.”

With the help of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Iraqi forces are in the second day of a coordinated attack on Ramadi, a city about 70 miles (113 kilometers) west of Baghdad and the capital of Anbar province.

The Iraqi flag has been hoisted over two recaptured Ramadi neighborhoods, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said.

ISIS took over Ramadi in May after a year of fighting there, spurring tens of thousands of civilians to flee.

But tens of thousands of civilians remain in Ramadi, and “ISIS is surrounding them and preventing them from leaving,” Hikmet Suleiman, an adviser to the governor of Anbar province, told CNN.

Iraqi forces had control of areas in Anbar province before the latest push into the center of Ramadi.

Two weeks ago, security forces started to encircle the city. On Tuesday, they were able to bridge a canal of the Euphrates River and close in on the city center, said to Col. Steven Warren, a spokesman for the coalition.

The presence of Iraqi forces around Ramadi is “like a boa constrictor, a squeezing of ISIL out of that city,” Warren told CNN, using another name for ISIS.

He credits the yearlong U.S. training of Iraqi security forces for the successful advances.

“That training is starting to take hold,” he said.

Ramadi matters

Ramadi has strategic importance, because Anbar is the heartland of Iraq’s Sunni Muslim population and because the city is close to Baghdad.

It also has symbolic significance. After Iraqi forces pulled out of Ramadi in May, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter questioned whether the Iraqis had the “will to fight.”

Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, later said Carter had bad information. But Salim al-Jabouri, speaker of the Iraqi parliament and arguably the country’s most powerful Sunni politician, said that even the Prime Minister didn’t know of the withdrawal until after it happened.

Ramadi was one of “three R’s” identified as the core of a triple-pronged U.S. strategy against ISIS that Carter floated before U.S. lawmakers in October. The others were raids by special operations forces and Raqqa, the extremists’ de facto capital in Syria.

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