The Iraqi military, backed by tribal fighters and US airstrikes, regained control of the government center and main neighborhoods in Ramadi from the Islamic State after a week of heavy fighting. Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, fell to the Islamic State in May after Iraqi forces based there fled their posts.
“The [government] complex is under our complete control, there is no presence whatsoever of Daesh [Islamic State] fighters in the complex,” Sabah al Numani, a spokesman for the Iraqi military coalition charged with retaking Ramadi, told Reuters.
The Islamic State has been “defeated in Ramadi” and that “the next step is to clear pockets that could exist here or there in the city,” Numani said.
The loss of Ramadi is a major blow to the Islamic State, which seized the provincial capital and raised its flag over the government center on May 15 after launching a coordinated assault on Iraqi units stationed in the city. The Anbar Operations Command, a corps-level command center that directed all operations in the province, also fell to the Islamic State that same day. Iraqi security forces abandoned the city after a wave of Islamic State suicide bombers attacked multiple targets. US officials claimed Iraq forces made a tactical withdrawal from the capital due to a sandstorm.
Iraqi Army units, backed by police and counterterroism units as well as local tribal fighters launched the final push to retake Ramadi on Dec. 22. The government forces, estimated at more than 10,000 strong, launched the attack from the north, south and west of the city. Iranian-backed Shiite militias from the Popular Mobilization Units appear to have been held back from the final push to retake Ramadi, however their presence near Habbaniyah in the Fallujah-Ramadi corridor has been well established.
The US military supported the Iraqi offensive, launching scores of airstrikes in and around Ramadi over the past week. Over the past 24 hours, the US military said it conducted five airstrike that targeted “two separate ISIL tactical units … an ISIL fighting position, five ISIL command and control nodes, an ISIL tactical vehicle, an ISIL bed-down location, an ISIL artillery site, … [and] five ISIL-used roads.”
The number of Islamic State fighters defending Ramadi has been estimated at upwards of 1,000. On Dec. 21, Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the US military, claimed that between 500 and 1,000 jihadists were defending the city, and that US airstrikes had killed at least 350 of them. The next day he estimated that between 250 and 350 remained inside Ramadi. On Dec. 26, a local Iraqi intelligence official claimed that 500 Islamic State fighters were present. The same day, another Iraqi official said that all the foreign Islamic State fighters had left Ramadi and that scores of local fighters remained behind.
While the Islamic State has been driven from central Ramadi, it still controls areas east and west of the city. The Islamic State still controls much of Anbar, including Hit, Ana, Rawa, Al Qaim, and Fallujah – which was the first Iraqi city to fall in January 2014. The Iraqi military and Shiite militias launched multiple operations to retake Fallujah over the past year, but failed.
The Islamic State has lost three major cities inside Iraq over the past year. Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias from the Popular Mobilization Units retook control of Tikrit and Baiji in Salahaddin province over the pst several months. The Iraqi government must maintain control of Tikrit and Baiji if it wants to retake control of Mosul. Despite the Islamic State’s recent setbacks, the jihadist group still controls large areas of Iraq and neighboring Syria.