Iraqi forces flew the national flag above the main government
complex in Ramadi earlier in the day, declaring they had recaptured
the city, a provincial capital west of Baghdad, which fell to
Islamic State in May.
"2016 will be the year of the big and final victory, when Daesh's
presence in Iraq will be terminated," Abadi said in a speech
broadcast on state television, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic
State that the hardline group rejects.
"We are coming to liberate Mosul and it will be the fatal and final
blow to Daesh," he added. Mosul, northern Iraq's main city, is by
far the largest population center in the self-proclaimed caliphate
Islamic State rules in Iraq and Syria.
The army's apparent capture of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province in
the Euphrates River valley west of Baghdad, marks a major milestone
for U.S.-trained forces who crumbled when Islamic State fighters
charged into Iraq in June 2014. In previous battles since then,
Iraq's armed forces operated mainly in a supporting role beside
Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias.
Soldiers were shown on state television on Monday publicly
slaughtering a sheep in an act of celebration.
Gunshots and an explosion could be heard as a state TV reporter
interviewed other soldiers celebrating the victory with their
automatic weapons held in the air.
U.S. President Barack Obama, vacationing in Hawaii with his family,
received an update on Monday on the Iraqi forces' progress in
Ramadi, the White House said.
"The continued progress of the Iraqi Security Forces in the fight to
retake Ramadi is a testament to their courage and determination, and
our shared commitment to push ISIL out of its safe-havens," the
White House said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State.
Congratulating the Iraqi government, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash
Carter said: "The expulsion of ISIL by Iraqi security forces ... is
a significant step forward in the campaign to defeat this barbaric
In a statement, Carter added: "Now it's important for the Iraqi
government ... to seize this opportunity to maintain the peace in
Ramadi, prevent the return of ISIL and other extremists, and
facilitate the return of Ramadi's citizens back to the city."
American officials said the U.S.-led coalition backing Iraqi
forces had carried out more than 630 air strikes in the area over
the past six months and provided training and equipment.
The U.S.-led coalition, which includes major European and Arab
powers, has been waging an air campaign against Islamic State
positions in both Iraq and Syria since a third of Iraqi territory
fell to the fighters in mid-2014.
The Iraqi army was humiliated in that advance, abandoning city after
city and leaving fleets of American armored vehicles and other
weapons in the militants' hands. One of the main challenges of the
conflict since then has been rebuilding Iraq's army into a force
capable of capturing and holding territory.
Baghdad has said for months it would prove its forces' rebuilt
capability by rolling back militant advances in Anbar, a mainly
Sunni province encompassing the fertile Euphrates River valley from
Baghdad's outskirts to the Syrian border.
After encircling the provincial capital for weeks, Iraqi forces
launched an assault to retake it last week and made a final push to
seize the central administration complex on Sunday. Their progress
had been slowed by explosives planted in streets and booby-trapped
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Security officials said the forces still needed to clear pockets of
insurgents in the city and its outskirts.
Authorities gave no immediate death toll from the battle for the
city. They have said most residents were evacuated before the
Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters the capture of Ramadi
was "a done deal," but said the government had to do more to rebuild
the city and encourage displaced people to return.
"The most important thing is to secure it (Ramadi) because Daesh can
bounce back," he said in an interview in Baghdad.
Iraq's army took the lead in the battle for Ramadi, with the Shi'ite
militias prominent in other campaigns held back from the battlefield
to avoid antagonizing the mainly Sunni population. Washington had
also expressed reluctance about being seen as fighting alongside the
Abadi took office in September 2014 after the Islamic State advance,
pledging to reconcile Iraq's warring sectarian communities. While he
initially swung behind Shi'ite militias to help halt Islamic State's
onslaught, he has since tried to implement reforms to reduce the
power of sectarian parties, angering many political leaders.
Members of Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS, are
ultra-hardline Sunnis who consider all Shi'ite Muslims to be
apostates. They swept through northern and western Iraq in June 2014
and declared a "caliphate" to rule over all Muslims from territory
in both Iraq and Syria, carrying out mass killings and imposing a
draconian form of Sunni Islam.
The battle against the group in both Syria and Iraq has since drawn
in most global and regional powers, often with competing allies on
the ground in multi-sided civil wars.
Abadi's government plans to hand over Ramadi to local police and a
Sunni tribal force once it is secured, to encourage Sunnis to resist
Such a strategy would echo the U.S. military's "surge" campaign of
2006-2007, which relied on recruiting and arming Sunni tribal
fighters against a precursor of Islamic State. Anbar, including
Ramadi, was a major focus of that campaign at the height of the
2003-2011 U.S. war in Iraq.
(Additional reporting by Saif Hameed, Ahmed Rasheed, Jeff Mason,
Arshad Mohammed and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Peter Graff, Peter
Cooney Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)
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