Iraqi army scrambles to wrest Ramadi from ISIL

Reinforcements sent to provincial city to try to push out ISIL, which is in control of major government complex.

An Iraqi military spokesman has said reinforcements have been dispatched to Ramadi, a provincial city now largely held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

Brigadier-General Saad Maan Ibrahim, the spokesman of the Joint Operations Command, told Iraqi state television on Saturday that the US-led coalition was supporting Iraqi troops with “painful” air strikes since late Friday.

Ibrahim did not give details on the ongoing battles, but vowed that ISIL would be pushed out of the city “in the coming hours”.

ISIL took full control of the local government headquarters in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, on Friday.

“They [ISIL] took the compound. They seized it. It belongs to them,” reported Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr from Baghdad.

On Friday, ISIL fighters claimed victory through mosque loudspeakers after overrunning most of the city, the Reuters news agency reported.

If Ramadi were to fully fall to ISIL it would be the first major city seized by the fighters in Iraq since security forces and paramilitary groups began pushing them back last year.

Fighting continued in one district of Ramadi, 100km west of Baghdad, and government forces were still in control of a military command centre to the west of the city.

‘Lack of backing’

On Friday, Hikmat Suleiman, the spokesman for Anbar’s governor, told Al Jazeera that the fighters managed to seize the heavily fortified main government compound of the city on Friday mainly due to a lack of backing from the central Baghdad government.

“For months we were complaining and telling the security ministries that there was no coordination,” he said, adding that the military ignored requests for much needed weapons.

Al Jazeera’s Khodr said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had acknowledged that the capture of the compound was a military defeat for the iraqi government and promised a tough response.

“He did receive a phone call from the US Vice President Joe Biden. America is promising to send more weapons,” she said.

Brigadier-General Thomas Weidley, the chief of the US command in the war against ISIL, said that the group’s latest advances in Ramadi did not represent a setback.

Weidley said ISIL had “episodic, temporary successes, but again these typically don’t materialise into long-term gains”.

“We firmly believe Daesh is on the defensive throughout Iraq and Syria,” he told reporters in a teleconference, using an alternative acronym for the ISIL group.

ISIL itself issued a statement in which it said its fighters “broke into the Safavid government complex in the centre of Ramadi”.

The operation “resulted in the control of it after killing the ‘murtadeen’ then blowing up the adjacent buildings of Anbar’s governorate and the Safavid Anbar police HQ”.

Safavid is a term used by ISIL in a derogatory way to refer to government forces and “murtadeen” designates Sunni tribal fighters battling alongside the government.

‘Ramadi not fully taken’

Suleiman, Anbar governor’s spokesman speaking to Al Jazeera, denied the city of Ramadi had fully fallen to ISIL, as the Anbar Operations Command, which is the military command in Ramadi, remains under the control of authorities.

The government compound taken by ISIL contained Anbar’s governor’s office, police headquarters and intelligence headquarters.

ISIL has threatened to take control of Ramadi for months and the breakthrough came after a wide offensive on several fronts in the province, including an assault using several suicide car bombs in Ramadi on Thursday.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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