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Iraqi commander says no progress yet in IS-held Ramadi

The coming year will see the total defeat of Islamic State in Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Monday in a speech broadcast on state TV, praising the capture of the western city of Ramadi.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool initially announced that Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, had been “fully liberated”.

Members of Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism service place the national flag yesterday on the roof of a building of the government complex after they recaptured this city. The country’s striped flag in black, white and red colours was seen everywhere, with the symbolic moment coming when it was raised once more over the main government complex which had become ISIS’ stronghold in the city.

But General Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar, quickly clarified that government forces had only retaken a strategic government complex and that parts of the city remained under IS control.

Ramadi, located about 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of Baghdad, and nearby Fallujah, which lies half-way on the road to Baghdad and remains under IS control, saw some of the heaviest fighting of the eight-year US intervention in Iraq. Most military experts believe the progress had been slowed by snipers, booby traps and the militants destruction of bridges which led to the city center.

“If 2015 was a year of liberation, 2016 will be the year of great victories, terminating the presence of Daesh (IS) in Iraq and Mesopotamia”, he said in a televised address.

He continued, “We are ready to liberate Mosul and destroy ISIS completely in Iraq”. “2016 will be the end of ISIS in all parts of Iraq”. Iraqi and US officials have said pockets of insurgents held up in the city and its outskirts still needed to be cleared.

Soldiers were shown on state television on Monday publicly slaughtering a sheep in an act of celebration.

Col. Steve Warren, U.S. spokesman for the anti-IS military operation, said that since May, the coalition had launched 630 airstrikes in and around Ramadi and trained some of the Iraqi forces that took the city back.

The Iraqi army was humiliated in that advance, abandoning city after city and leaving fleets of American armored vehicles and other weapons in the militants’ hands.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated the fighters, saying that they had killed hundreds of militants and “fulfilled the promise to defeat Daesh in Ramadi” referring to ISIS group by its Arabic acronym.

Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and pro-government militias were long stalled in their efforts to retake territory, but have made recent gains. “The dead bodies are taken directly to the main military hospital” near the airport, said one hospital source, explaining why he could not provide a death toll. “I would say that Mosul is the most important territory for Islamic State”. Anbar, including Ramadi, was a major focus of that campaign at the height of the 2003-2011 USA war in Iraq.

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