Iraqi forces have retaken large parts of Ramadi from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, but officials expect the city’s “liberation” to take longer than initially expected.
Intense fighting between Iraqi forces – comprising the army, tribal groups and local police – and ISIL fighters continued on Thursday, two days after the latest operation to recapture the city began in earnest.
Iraqi intelligence believe there are only a few hundred rebels left within Anbar’s provincial capital, but booby traps – containging explosive material capable of damaging 25-tonne vehicles – have slowed their progress.
On Thursday afternoon, a number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) exploded on al-Dhubaat Street in the city’s south, killing 10 Iraqi troops and injuring another 16, military sources told Al Jazeera.
A day earlier, Iraqi government and military officials said they expected Ramadi to be liberated within about 72 hours, but that target appears to have been pushed back.
Deadline pushed back
Al Jazeera’s Waleed Ibrahim, reporting from Baghdad, said the language being used by military and political leaders has changed dramatically.
“Some leaders had said the liberation of the entire city will take 72 hours. Now leaders say they are [still] fighting and the liberation of Ramadi will take a longer time,” he said.
He said Iraqi forces were being slowed significantly by snipers, IEDs and booby-trapped buildings.
Despite the setbacks, Iraqi officials remain confident.
“The plan is to encircle the areas and launch an attack from the centre,” Iraqi MP Mohammed al-Ugaili told Al Jazeera.
“ISIL has lost the balance of power as it does not know which direction it’s being attacked by Iraqi forces.”
Iraqi forces have been backed by air strikes from the international coalition, led by the United States.
Ramadi, about 120km from the capital Baghdad, was captured by ISIL in May, but Iraqi forces have since managed to claw back some territory.
A counterattack by government forces on the centre of the Ramadi began in earnest on Tuesday.
Ramadi’s fall was the government’s biggest setback since ISIL fighters swept through areas in the country’s north and west – including Iraq’s second-biggest city of Mosul – in the summer of 2014.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that ISIL had released several statements claiming that its fighters had killed dozens of Iraqi soldiers in attacks in the city and on its outskirts.
In one statement released via social media, ISIL said a five-member suicide squad had ambushed police officers at an outpost it identified as the headquarters of the Second Regiment of the Federal Police, the report said.
Other statements by ISIL claimed the killings of more than 30 Iraqi soldiers with suicide bombs and explosives hidden inside buildings, according to translations of the statements by the SITE Intelligence Group, a research firm.