Iraqi forces say they have taken over a key government complex in Ramadi, in Anbar province, after driving out fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
Al Jazeera's Osama bin Javaid, reporting on Sunday from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, quoted sources as saying that Iraqi authorities now control at least 60 percent of Ramadi, although ISIL fighters were putting up fierce resistance, planting roadside bombs and deploying suicide bombers.
Ramadi fell to ISIL in May, an embarrassing setback to the Iraqi forces. Analysts say recapturing the provincial capital, which is just 100km west of Baghdad, could deprive ISIL of their biggest prize of 2015.
"By controlling the complex this means that we have defeated them in Ramadi," said Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for government forces.
"The next step is to clear pockets that could exist here or there in the city."
Mark Kimmitt, a former US assistant secretary of political and military affairs, said recapturing Ramadi was just a small part of defeating ISIL
"The Iraqi army has improved, but to take Ramadi is going to take thousands and thousands of soldiers and one question is whether those soldiers are ready at this point," he told Al Jazeera.
"It could well be that next year by this time that ISIS is pushed out of Iraq and Iraq has restored its borders, but anybody that thinks that is the beginning of the end of ISIS I think doesn't understand that ISIS has truly metastatized inside the region," he added.
"We are going to be fighting this long war for a generation."
|Iraqi government forces faced roadside bombs and suicide bombings during their advance to the centre of Ramadi [AP]
Elsewhere, Kurdish forces are reported to have killed several ISIL fighters during a raid in Hawija, a town in Kirkuk province.
The clashes in Hawija occurred on Friday night, the Kurdish Rudaw news agency reported citing police officials.
The report said the raid was launched to free Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers from ISIL captivity but it was not clear whether any were found.
The operation reportedly involved American special forces and left Hussein Umari Assafi, an ISIL commander, dead, but US officials denied any role.
ISIL captured Hawija during its offensive in the summer of 2014, along with most of western Iraq and parts of Kurdish-controlled territory in the north.
In October, a joint US-Kurdish raid in Hawija freed about 70 hostages from ISIL, who were purportedly being prepared for execution.
At least six ISIL fighters were arrested in that raid and another 20 killed. A US soldier was killed during the clashes.
ISIL is reported to be holding a large number of Peshmerga soldiers, Iraqi security forces and civilians from minority groups.
It frequently conducts mass executions, which it films for its propaganda purposes.
ISIL also holds hostages for ransom or exchanges them for its own prisoners held by Kurdish security forces.
Source: Al Jazeera