Iraq forces pounding IS around Ramadi
Iraq's army and allied paramilitaries attacked Islamic State group positions around Ramadi on Tuesday, commanders said, in their latest push to recapture the Anbar capital from the jihadists. The authorities announced a major offensive to "liberate Anbar" on Monday, hours after the US-led coalition launched a record number of air strikes near Ramadi.
"The Iraqi army and the Hashed al-Shaabi are pounding IS positions with rockets and mortar rounds east, west and south of Ramadi," a senior army officer said. Ramadi is the capital of Anbar, a vast Sunni province which is largely under IS control. It is traversed by the Euphrates and stretches from the borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the outskirts of Baghdad.
Iraqi forces had resisted IS attacks for almost a year and half until they retreated from a spectacular jihadist onslaught in May. This was a huge blow to the government which had to call in the Hashed al-Shaabi (an umbrella organisation whose main components are Tehran-backed Shiite militias) to supplement its own underperforming forces.
Operations have been ongoing across Anbar for months, and Iraqi forces have recently attempted to sever IS supply lines by moving in from provinces, including Salaheddin to the northeast. Officers said advances achieved on Monday would further isolate Fallujah, which lies about half way between Ramadi and Baghdad, and allow anti-IS forces to better organise supplies and reinforcements.
Top commanders have admitted, however, that entering Ramadi and Fallujah, where US forces faced their toughest battles during their eight-year occupation of Iraq, would be difficult.
A senior officer in the police, which in Iraq takes part in military operations, said Iraqi units were currently advancing on Ramadi from three main axes. The US-led coalition said it had carried out 29 air strikes against IS targets in the Ramadi region on Sunday, an unusually high number for a single area on a single day.