Iraq's counterterrorism units and other anti-jihadist forces are clearing out pockets of resistance in Ramadi, following a key victory against "IS." In response, Islamists briefly took over an army base near the city.
The authorities arrested some 30 suspected "Islamic State" (IS) militants who were "attempting to flee Ramadi by blending in with civilians," police chief Hadi Irzayij said on Friday.
At the same time, security forces were fighting jihadists holed-up in several Ramadi neighborhoods, days after wresting control of the city from IS hands.
Iraq's elite counterterrorism service (CTS) was leading the clearing operations, supported by the army, police and local tribal forces. The US-led coalition was also providing air support.
Rescuing the civilians
IS fighters were using civilians as human shields and firing on residents trying to escape, security officials said.
"What we are doing now is saving the trapped families," CTS major Majed Mohammed told the AFP news agency.
Security forces managed to take 400 families to safety on Wednesday and Thursday alone, the commander of CTS, Lieutenant General Abdul Ghani al-Assadi, said. At least 90 more people were rescued on Friday, according to a police source.
"We take charge of the families according to a well-executed plan by our troops, and this plan guarantees the safety of those families," he said.
Jihadists have planted thousands of explosive devices across the city and on the roads, making rescue work difficult.
"They (Islamic State) are not Muslims, they are beasts," one of the men rescued from the central district told a Reuters cameraman with the advancing Iraqi column.
"We thank our security forces, from the soldiers to the generals. They saved us," the man said before breaking down in tears.
IS attacks army base
Also on Friday, IS launched a major attack on an army compound in the desert area north of Ramadi.
"They used six suicide vehicles followed by a commando of fighters wearing explosive belts," said a lieutenant colonel.
"They managed to take control of the base when the army had to pull out because it suffered casualties... Iraqi forces have since counter-attacked and retaken control, with aerial coalition backing," he said.
The anti-jihadist forces announced on Monday that the city was "liberated" from the Islamic State. However, officials in the US-led coalition estimated that some 700 IS fighters were still hiding in Ramadi, holding hundreds of civilians hostage.
dj/bk (AFP, Reuters, dpa)