‘If 2015 is the ‘year of liberation,’ then Allah willing, 2016 will be the year of great victory, the year of final victory, and the end of the Islamic State in Iraq,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said in a televised statement marking the government’s recapturing of the city of Ramadi.
In the speech, which aired Monday evening on official Iraqi TV, Abadi praised the armed forces on their great victory and expressed his confidence that this was a pivotal moment on the road to the total defeat of IS in the near future.
Abadi also saluted the fighters of the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iran-backed Shiite Popular Mobilization Units for their contribution in the “war on terror.”
On Tuesday, Abadi toured Ramadi, kicking off the visit by meeting security and provincial officials for the latest updates.
Across the city, meanwhile, military engineering teams were clearing bombs from the streets and nearby buildings, even as sporadic clashes were underway in outlying parts of the city.
Ramadi, located about 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of Baghdad, and nearby Fallujah, which lies halfway along the road to Baghdad and remains under IS control, saw some of the heaviest fighting of the eight-year US intervention in Iraq.
Monday’s recapture of the government complex is certainly likely to lift the morale of Iraqi forces, who were badly shaken by the city’s fall in May, which came despite months of US-led airstrikes and advances against IS elsewhere in the country.
The IS still controls much of northern and western Iraq, as well as vast swaths of neighboring Syria. It has declared a caliphate in the areas under its control and imposed a harsh and violent interpretation of Islamic law.
Iraqi state TV on Tuesday was replaying Monday’s footage from Ramadi, showing troops, some waving Iraqi flags and others brandishing machine guns, chanting and dancing inside what it described as the government complex in central Ramadi. Soldiers could be seen slaughtering sheep in celebration near heavily damaged buildings.
Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of the US Central Command, congratulated Iraqi forces on the “important operational achievement.”
Authorities have not provided casualty figures from the fighting for Ramadi.
IS overran large parts of Iraq in June 2014, including major territory in Al-Anbar governorate, which stretches from the borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the western approaches to Baghdad. Ramadi, the largest city, and capital of Al-Anbar, held out until last May when it was finally captured by IS fighters. After IS consolidated its hold on Ramadi, they fanned out into the city’s residential areas to set up less conspicuous centers of command.
“We could have liberated Ramadi much earlier, but IS terrorist criminals booby-trapped every school, house, hospital, street, and everything else in the city… Despite this, they failed miserably and were soundly defeated after hundreds of their terrorists were killed,” Abadi said in his TV address.
Washington welcomed Monday’s victory with Secretary of State John Kerry saying “we commend the government of Iraq and the brave Iraqi forces that are displaying tremendous perseverance and courage in this fight.”
“The United States and the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL have proudly supported this effort with training, advice, and equipment, as well as precision air strikes,” Kerry said.
“That support will continue as the mission in Ramadi is completed and we prepare for post-conflict stabilization.”
Al-Abadi declared that the next step on the campaign would be to liberate the northern city of Mosul in 2016. The battle for Mosul, however, is expected to be much more challenging due to its significantly larger size and also its having a large, well entrenched IS force.
AFP and AP contributed to this report.