Iraqi security forces have taken control of a compound in central Ramadi that had been a stronghold of "IS" fighters. Retaking Ramadi would be a significant boost to Iraqi forces.
"IS" fighters withdrew from a former government compound in central Ramadi on Sunday, bringing Iraqi security forces a step closer to capturing the capital of Anbar province after months of preparation, a military spokesperson said.
"The complex is under our complete control, there is no presence whatsoever of Daesh fighters in the complex," said Sabah al-Numani, using another name for the militant group which has taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria and proclaimed an Islamic caliphate.
"By controlling the complex this means that they have been defeated in Ramadi," said Numani. "The next step is to clear pockets that could exist here or there in the city."
However, the US-led military campaign said on Sunday they were unable to confirm whether Iraqi forces had cleared the center of Ramadi.
Initial estimates put the number of "IS" fighters in Ramadi at 400, but as Iraqi army and counter-terrorism forces advanced many are believed to have withdrawn or died in combat or suicide missions.
The government has not put out an official death toll for government forces.
Pro-government forces have been slowed down by snipers, booby traps and suicide bombers since launching an operation on Tuesday to retake the city, located only about 110 kilometers (70 miles) from Baghdad.
"IS" fighters reportedly forced some civilians to stay in Ramadi and have used them as human shields, complicating this week's operation. However, hundreds of thousands of Anbar residents had already fled or been uprooted from their homes since last year.
Boost for beleaguered Iraqi army
Iraqi television showed government forces advancing through the city, parts of which have been turned into piles of rubble. Meanwhile, in Baghdad and the Shiite south people celebrated news Ramadi had been retaken.
"IS" pushed out government forces in May in an embarrassing defeat for Iraq's beleaguered army after it collapsed last year in Mosul, handing Iraq's second largest city to "IS".
Retaking Ramadi after months of preparations marked by a series of delays would be a major boost to government forces, who received significant US-led coalition air support to soften up "IS" targets during the assault.
A government victory in Sunni dominant Anbar would also undermine the myth of "IS" moving from one battlefield success to another.
The Iraqi army has been receiving training by a US-led mission following its near disintegration last year.
Pro-government Shiite militia
Unlike other military operations against "IS", the Iraqi army instead of Iran-backed Shiite militia - such as Kataib Hezbollah (KH) and Asaib Ahl al-Haqq (AAH) - were involved in Ramadi in order to overcome distrust of Sunni residents.
Previous military operations against "IS" such as that led by pro-government Shiite militia in Tikrit in April were accompanied by human rights abuses, including the abduction of Sunnis and destruction of homes, according to Human Rights Watch.
Some Iraq analyst have voiced concern Iran-backed Shiite militia -separately or through infiltration of the Iraqi army- could unleash sectarianism against the Sunni population.
cw/se (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)