The Iraqi army began an offensive in the western town of Ramadi Dec. 22 in a bid to retake control of it from ISIS.
ISIS has held the town since capturing it from government forces in May.
“Our forces are advancing towards the government complex in the center of Ramadi,” said spokesman Sabah al-Numani, according to Reuters. “The fighting is in the neighborhood around the complex, with support from the air force.”
Ramadi is 60 miles west of Baghdad, Iraq’s capital. It is also the capital of the predominantly Sunni Anbar province.
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“It’s ferocious fight, it’s premature to say how long it will take but we can say victory will be achieved in a few days,” he added.
Authorities decided only to use Iraqi army troops, and to avoid deploying Shiite militias which have fought in previous battles. During the recapture of Tikrit, another predominantly Sunni town, reports emerged of human rights abuses by the militias.
The government in Baghdad believes between 250 and 300 ISIS fighters are resisting the offensive in Ramadi.
The army used a portable bridge supplied by the U.S. Army to cross the Euphrates river to attack ISIS positions, according to Military.com.
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“Crossing the river was the main difficulty,” al-Numani said, according to Reuters. “We’re facing sniper fire and suicide bombers who are trying to slow our advance. We’re dealing with them with air force support.”
U.S. aircraft carried out 33 airstrikes in 24 hours to back up the offensive, Military.com reported.
ISIS also controls the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Mosul, which is the country’s second largest city.
Before the attack, Iraqi planes dropped leaflets in Ramadi urging civilians to leave.
“There are families that managed to escape the gangs of Daesh,” Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Naseer Nuri told Reuters, using an Arabic word for ISIS.
An estimated 4,000 to 10,000 civilians are still in the city, according to reports, and ISIS appears determined to keep them there.
“There is intelligence information from inside the city that they are preventing families from leaving; they plan to use them as human shields,” Nuri said.