Following several months of fighting, Iraqi forces, supported by a U.S.-led airstrikes, drove Islamic State fighters out of the center of Ramadi, military officials said Monday. Ramadi is the provincial capital of Anbar province. It fell to ISIS in May.
Since then, the city, located about 80 miles west of Baghdad, has been the site of some of the heaviest fighting in the country since the U.S. invaded eight years ago. Even on Monday, military officials issued contradictory statements.
On state television, the Guardian reports, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, a military spokesman, said, “Ramadi has been liberated and the armed forces of the counter-terrorism service have raised the Iraqi flag above the government complex.”
However, Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar, told the Associated Press that ISIS fighters still controlled 30 percent of the city. “The troops only entered the government complex,” he said. “We can’t say that Ramadi is fully liberated. There are still neighborhoods under their control and there are still pockets of resistance.”
One Iraqi military officer told the AP that Iraqi forces had only gained control of the government complex as ISIS fighters retreated to other parts of the city. They left behind hundreds of bombs and other booby traps. From the AP:
“We were totally surprised today,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the press.
“We didn’t expect them to retreat from a number of Ramadi areas today, where we entered without any resistance, as if they evaporated,” he said.
Al-Belawi said the fighters retreated mainly to the eastern neighborhoods of Sijariya and Sufiya. Authorities did not provide casualty figures from the fighting.
The recapture of the government complex should lift the morale of Iraqi forces, who were badly shaken by the fall of the city in May, which came despite months of U.S.-led airstrikes and advances against IS elsewhere in the country.
ISIS “has planted more than 300 explosive devices on the roads and in the buildings of the government complex,” Brig. Gen. Majid al-Fatlawi of the army’s 8th division said.