Islamic State seizes Ramadi in 'crushing setback' for opposition

Militants use armoured bulldozers and multiple suicide bombers to force Iraqi forces out of city


Islamic State has seized control of Ramadi, a major Iraqi city, in a "crushing setback" to the countries trying to stem the extremist group's expansion in the region.

The capture of the city, the capital of Iraq's largest province Al Anbar, was described by the Wall Street Journal as Islamic State's "biggest military victory this year".

According to Iraqi officials, government security forces and tribal fighters retreated after militants burst into the city in armoured bulldozers and detonated a series of suicide bomb explosions.

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Local officials estimated that more than 500 people had died in the last two days of fighting, including civilians and police who had run out of ammunition. A further 8,000 people were said to have been displaced over the same period.

Retired Lt Col Anthony Shaffer, a senior fellow at the London Centre for Policy Research, said the US-trained Iraqi military units were "basically laying down their guns and running".

However, Muhannad Haimour, the Anbar governor's spokesman, pointed out that it was "very difficult to stop a bulldozer that's been armoured, driven by a suicide bomber, with tons of explosives". He told CNN that it was "not a conventional war by any stretch of the imagination".

Much of Anbar province has been held by Islamic State (IS) for more than 18 months, with the fall of Ramadi marking a "crushing setback" for the extremist group's opponents, said the Wall Street Journal.

Last night Iraqi and US officials said the fight for Ramadi was far from over. Iraq's Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, is preparing to send reinforcements, including Iran-backed Shi'ite militias, into the Sunni heartland – a controversial move in a country where sectarian tensions remain high.

Speaking in South Korea, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was confident that the loss can be reversed in the coming days.

The advance in Ramadi, just 70 miles west of Baghdad, came a day after a US special operations team killed IS's finance leader in Syria.

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