Government forces expect to dislodge Islamic State militants from the western Iraqi city of Ramadi within days, state television said on Wednesday, citing army chief of staff Lt. General Othman al-Ghanemi.
If Ramadi is captured, it will be the second major city after Tikrit to be retaken from Islamic State in Iraq. It would provide a major psychological boost to Iraqi security forces after the militant group seized a third of Iraq, a major OPEC oil producer and U.S ally, last year." In the coming days will be announced the good news of the complete liberation of Ramadi," Iraqia TV cited the officer as saying. Iraq's armed forces began advancing on Tuesday on the last district held by the militants in the center of Ramadi, a Sunni Muslim city on the river Euphrates some 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad that they captured in May. Before the start of the attack, Iraqi intelligence estimated the number of Islamic State fighters entrenched in the center of Ramadi at between 250 and 300.
Progress has been slow because the government wants to rely entirely on its own troops and not use Shi'ite militias in order to avoid rights abuses such as occurred after the recapture of the city of Tikrit from the militants in April.
Islamic State also controls Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, and Falluja, which lies between Ramadi and Baghdad, as well as large areas of Syria - the core of what it has declared to be a caliphate.
Citing military statements, state TV said government forces have laid siege to the IS-held district of Ramadi, and killed hundreds of militants since Tuesday. I gave no casualty toll for government forces. The offensive started on Tuesday at dawn, when units crossed the Euphrates river into central districts using two bridges - one rebuilt by army engineers, and a second floating structure, an army spokesman said, describing fighting as "ferocious".
There has been no major push into the center overnight, said an officer on the ground asking not to be identified. The fighting has been limited to skirmishes, sniper fire and exchanges of mortar rounds, he said. State TV cited the Anbar province military commander Major Gen. Ismail Shihab saying the army was proceeding cautiously so as to avoid civilian casualties.