IS militants take control of Ramadi government stronghold

IS militants take control of Ramadi government stronghold
The main government building in the the city of Ramadi, western Iraq, has fallen to the Islamic State group after a fierce battle with Iraqi security forces.
3 min read
15 May, 2015
Government forces have been locked in intense battles with IS militants for months [AFP]

The Islamic State group (IS, formerly ISIS) has raised its infamous black flag over the local government compound in Ramadi, western Iraq, after a fierce battle with Iraqi state security forces.

The militant group claims to have "eliminated the apostates" who remained inside.

Ramadi is the capital of the restive Anbar province and has been hotly contested since last year with the IS militants and their allies ramping up the offensive in April, gaining ground to the north and east.

Officials say IS has also seized the police headquarters although the military still control their command centre to the west of the city.

Although the picture is still unclear about exactly how much of the town IS has managed to hold, the seizure of the government compound marks a strategic blow to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who had prioritised wrestling control of Anbar province from IS. 

Ongoing violence

A series of near-simultaneous suicide car bombings on Friday targeted the compound and killed 10 policemen, following an attack on the army barracks in eastern Fallujah on Thursday where more than 100 soldiers were killed and around 28 captured.

"The IS paraded the captured soldiers in al-Karma and Fallujah after winning the battle and regaining control of three towns, including al-Shiha and al-Bukhanfar" a leader from Fallujah Sheikh Ahmed Darae al-Jamili said.

"The explosions were extremely violent, killing more than 100 soldiers and Popular Mobilisation fighters”, Jamili also said, adding that "IS seized more than 20 different weapons that had been taken to Fallujah."

Capturing Ramadi

The attack on Friday was part of a new push by the Islamic State group to capture areas still controlled by the government in Ramadi.

The coordinated attack damaged part of the Anbar Police Headquarters building, killed the 10 policemen and also wounded at least seven, said a police officer. He added that two Humvees seized from the Iraqi army earlier were used in Friday's attack.

It comes after the release of a video by the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi where he urged Muslims to emigrate to his self-proclaimed "caliphate" and called on supporters worldwide to join the fight in Iraq and Syria.

"And we call upon every Muslim in every place to perform hijrah (emigration) to the Islamic State or fight in his land wherever that may be," he said.

Baghdadi criticised Sunni civilians fleeing fighting in the western province of Anbar to seek shelter in Baghdad and other government-controlled areas.

"So return to your lands, and remain in your homes, and seek shelter - after first seeking shelter with Allah - with your people in the Islamic State, for you will find therein, by Allah's permission, a warm embrace and a safe refuge," he said.

Dozens of families were forced to flee their homes in the area, he added, appealing to the central government in Baghdad to send reinforcements.

The Anbar council warned against Ramadi falling into the hands of the IS and demanded the government to take up responsibility and send more soldiers to the city.

"The situation is tense, but the tribes and the security forces are resisting viciously. The government must take serious action as soon as possible" Anbar council chief Sabah al-Karhout told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

With additional reporting from AFP and The Associated Press