Dodging snipers and booby traps, Iraqi forces push on in Ramadi
Iraqi forces clashed with Islamic State [IS] fighters on Saturday while defending the former government complex in the heart of the city of Ramadi.
After a major push on Tuesday that broke IS defences around the city centre, officials said a victory in the provincial capital was just hours away, but snipers, booby traps, roadside bombs and suicide attackers have slowed down the government forces.
While initial hopes of a quick victory have faded, Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) and the army have advanced steadily through the devastated capital of Anbar province.
They reached a key intersection in the Hoz neighbourhood, hundreds of yards away from the government complex whose recapture would signify a full recapture of Ramadi.
"There are fierce battles pitting members of the Daesh [an Arab acronym for IS] organisation against the Iraqi forces there now," said Ahmed al-Dulaimi, a police captain.
He said the latest fighting had left at least two members of the Iraqi security forces dead and nine wounded.
Clashes killed three on Friday, according to several senior officers and local officials.
The senior officers added that soliders killed 23 IS fighters on Friday alone.
The number of IS fighters hunkered down in central Ramadi was estimated at the start of the operation five days ago at no more than 400.
"You have the 8th Iraqi army and CTS ... and they're all pushing forward," said Colonel Steve Warren, the spokesman for the US-led coalition which has been supporting Iraqi forces in Ramadi with daily air strikes.
"CTS have made more progress, they're several hundred metres closer to the government complex," Warren said.
The advance by the government forces has also been hampered by the possible presence of dozens of families trapped in the combat zone and used by IS as human shields.
Government forces held off months of IS assaults in Ramadi until May 2015, when members of the group blitzed their opponents with large suicide car bombs and seized full control of the city.
That defeat was Baghdad's worst in the war against IS, and a victory now would provide a boost to the much-criticised federal forces.
In addition to seizing the historic Syrian town of Palmyra, capturing Ramadi was one of IS's major gains in a year that saw the group lose 14 percent of its territory overall, according to an IHS Jane's report released last week.