Members of Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service secure on December 27, 2015 the Hoz neighbourhood in central Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, about 110 kilometers west of Baghdad, during military operations conducted by Iraqi pro-government forces against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group. Jihadist fighters abandoned their last stronghold in Ramadi today, bringing Iraqi federal forces within sight of their biggest victory since last year's massive offensive by the Islamic State group. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of Iraq's counter-terrorism unit help secure part of central Ramadi © AFP

Iraq’s prime minister, Haidar al-Abadi, visited Ramadi on Tuesday, the day after Iraqi forces took the city back from Isis fighters.

Arriving by helicopter, the prime minister met with Iraqi forces, who led the offensive to take the city with the support of US-led coalition air strikes.

“The prime minister, the general commander of the armed forces, Dr Haidar al-Abadi, visits the liberated city of Ramadi,” the prime minister’s office announced on his official twitter account.

The hoisting of Iraq’s national flag above the government complex in central Ramadi on Monday was a major victory for the country’s armed forces, which were routed by Isis militants when they took over the Sunni-majority city last May.

“The complex represented an Isis stronghold. Taking control of it meant controlling all of the city of Ramadi,” said Saad Hadithi, Mr Abadi’s spokesman, although he acknowledged that there were still small areas of resistance. “[Efforts are under way to clear some Isis pockets here and there and guarantee the return of all citizens,” he said.

The capture of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, by Isis fighters was a major defeat for the Iraqi government and a humiliation for Baghdad’s armed forces. It also raised fears that the jihadis could take the capital, Baghdad.

“It was a significant defeat because around 6,000 Iraqi fighters fled with all their equipment in the face of around 450 Isis fighters,” said Hisham al-Hashimi, a Baghdad-based analyst on Isis and Sunni insurgents movements.

Taking back the city was also a political victory for Mr Abadi, who has been trying to strengthen the Iraqi army after years of corruption and sectarianism undermined its effectiveness. Many of the government’s recent battles against Isis have been led by Shia militia, who were excluded from the Ramadi operation.

The retaking of the city will “restore confidence in the Iraqi army; meaning that it can fight and resist Isis”, said Sajad Jiyad, of the al-Bayan Center for Planning and Studies in Baghdad. He said he expected the armed forces to now move “towards the north to liberate the rest of the areas in Anbar”.

Baghdad has already announced its intention of retaking all its territory in 2016. “The Iraqi government is committed to the liberation of all areas in Iraq next year,” Mr. Hadithi said.

But despite the army’s success, wresting other areas from Isis remains a challenge. The jihadis still control swaths of Iraqi territory, including Fallujah and Mosul, Iraq’s second city.

Get alerts on Iraq when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article