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Iraqi Troops Storm Ramadi In Bid To Retake IS-Controlled City

Members of the Iraqi security forces point at destruction in the rural Husayba al-Sharkiya area, east of the Anbar Province capital of Ramadi, as they undertake military operations to attack Islamic State (IS) group positions on December 20.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say Iraqi security forces have stormed the center of Ramadi in a bid to wrest control of the central Iraqi city from Islamic State (IS) militants.

A spokesman for the Iraqi counterterrorism units, Sabah al-Numani, said on December 22 that Iraqi forces were advancing to the government complex in a central district of the city, located about 100 kilometers west of Baghdad.

He also said fighting was taking place in neighborhoods around the complex, and that the Iraqi Air Force was providing support, along with the U.S.-led coalition.

IS fighters seized the city in May, in a major setback for Iraq's central government. It came after militants swept through the country's north and west seizing vast territory, including the second-largest city of Mosul in the summer of 2014.

The effort to retake the city, whose population is estimated at between 4,000 and 10,000, began early last month after a months-long effort to cut off supply lines.

U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said Iraqi forces were finding roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices throughout the center.

U.S. military engineers helped in repairing heavily damaged bridges across the Euphrates River, and setting up floating bridges, he added.

Warren said between 250 and 300 IS fighters were still entrenched in the center of Ramadi, a figure that matched up with Iraqi intelligence estimates.

Asked if Ramadi's fall was imminent, Warren said: "The end is coming. That said, it's going to be a tough fight."

"Iraqi security forces have much work to do, still have hard fighting, and it's going to take some time," he said.

The United States has stepped up its involvement in stabilizing Iraqi and its fragile government. A total of 3,500 troops remain in the country, four years after Washington announced a formal end to its eight-year war there.

Numani said no pro-government Shi'ite militias were taking part in the operation. The militias' actions in Sunni territory has raised concerns about sectarian conflict. In some Sunni-dominated regions of Iraq, IS fighters were reportedly welcomed.

Warren also said that documents seized by Iraqi security forces near the city of Fallujah -- which is still under control of IS fighters -- included orders instructing militants to try and blend in with government forces as the militants retreat, and to attack civilians and mosques, in an effort to discredit the government.

An air strike by U.S. forces last week near Fallujah mistakenly hit Iraqi forces, killing 10 troops.

The effort to recapture Ramadi follows earlier successes in Sinjar, a town about 500 kilometers north of Ramadi, which sits along a strategic route between the Syrian border and Mosul.

Iraqi Kurdish forces, along with Yazidi militias and U.S. military advisers, helped rout IS fighters there last month.

With reporting by AP, AFP and Reuters
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