Baghdad, Dec 26: Die-hard jihadists made a desperate last stand today in Ramadi’s former government complex, the main remaining target of Iraqi forces reconquering the city they lost in May. After a push on Tuesday that broke the Islamic State group’s defences around the city centre, government forces were slowed by snipers, booby traps, roadside bombs and suicide attackers. Also Read - At Least 100 Killed in Terrorist Attacks on Two Villages in Niger
Initial hopes of a quick victory faded, but Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) and the army have advanced steadily through the devastated capital of Anbar province. They reached a key intersection in the Hoz neighbourhood, home to the government complex, whose seizure would go a long way towards ensuring a full recapture of Ramadi. Also Read - Islamic State Claims Responsibility For Vienna Terror Attack That Left 4 People Dead
“CTS has cleared Hoz neighbourhood in central Ramadi completely and arrived near the government complex,” spokesman Sabah al-Numan said. Iraq’s war media cell, which speaks on behalf of the interior and defence ministries as well as the paramilitary groups fighting IS, said the jihadists’ use of improvised explosive devices had forced a shift in strategy. Also Read - IS-linked Couple Incites Anti-CAA Protests For Terror Strike in Delhi's Jamia Nagar; Detained
“The plan was to enter Hoz from Dhubbat but because of the mines, CTS changed tack and came in from the river bank,” a statement said. The latest fighting left at least two members of the security forces dead and nine wounded, according to police Captain Ahmed al-Dulaimi.
At least three were killed yesterday, according to several senior officers and local officials. The figures they provide for IS casualties are high, with at least 23 killed yesterday alone.
The number of IS fighters hunkered down in central Ramadi was estimated at the start of the operation five days ago at no more than 400. “You have the 8th Iraqi Army and CTS… and they’re all pushing forward,” said Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for the US-led coalition supporting Iraqi forces in Ramadi with daily air strikes.
“CTS have made more progress; they’re several hundred metres (yards) closer to the government complex,” Warren said. The government forces’ advance has also been hampered by the possible presence of families trapped in the combat zone and used by IS as human shields. Officials said yesterday dozens of families were thought to still be in combat areas.
Civilians who escaped said after being taken by the army to camps east of Ramadi that there was little food for those left behind.