BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces have made advances on two fronts in the city of Ramadi, clearing Islamic State militants from a key military command base and a sprawling neighborhood on its western edge, army officials said.
Capture of the sprawling western Ramadi district of al-Taamim and the Anbar Operations Command headquarters on Wednesday could advance government efforts to retake Ramadi which fell to Islamic State in May.
“Army troops and counter-terrorism forces launched simultaneous offensives from the northern and western fronts and succeeded in making a striking advance,” joint operations spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told Reuters.
The center of Ramadi remains under Islamic State control, but Rasool said the militants, which Iraqi intelligence estimates number between 250 and 300 fighters, are losing the initiative and suffering food and ammunition shortages after government forces cut their last supply line into the city last month.
“We can hear their radio call we intercepted complaining about lack of food and ammunition,“ Rasool said. ”It’s quite clear they are desperate and collapsing.”
The fall of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, in May was the biggest defeat for Iraq’s weak central government in nearly a year, dampening its hopes of routing the Sunni militants from the country’s north and west.
The Anbar Operations Command complex and Taamim neighborhood retaken by counter-terrorism forces are strategically significant because they overlook other parts of Ramadi which are still under the militants’ control, Rasool and another spokesman for the counter-terrorism forces said.
“Retaking Taamim after a striking offensive prevented terrorists from evacuating large stockpiles of ammunition which they left behind. It’s a severe blow to their morale,” said Sabah al-Numani, spokesman for Iraqi counter-terrorism forces.
Local officials and tribal leaders estimate between 1,200-1,700 families remain trapped inside the city by the militants.
Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; editing by Ralph Boulton