With the help of U.S.-led airstrikes, Iraqi military forces drove ISIS militants out of the western city of Ramadi in "the first major triumph for the U.S.-trained force since it collapsed in the face of an assault by the militants 18 months ago," Reuters reports. The assault on ISIS strongholds in the city began last week with a force of about 10,000 Iraqi troops
Ramadi is a strategically important city for the Western coalition attempting to beat back the spread of the Islamic State across Iraq and Syria. "The retaking of Ramadi would allow the Iraqi government to cut off supplies to Fallujah, which sits about halfway between Ramadi and Baghdad, the Iraqi capital," explains Krishnadev Calamur. "It would also, in the words of The New York Times, provide a boost to Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi prime minister, who “has tried to reach out to the country’s large Sunni minority.”
The AP also notes that, along with Fallujah, Ramadi saw some of the heaviest fighting during the Iraq War. It's capture by ISIS in May marked a low point for an Iraqi military overwhelmed and gutted by well-armed militants in recent months. The victory in Ramadi came after weeks of heavy combat designed to retake the city building by building, inch by inch. From the AP:
In recent months Iraqi forces have launched several offensives to retake Ramadi, but all had stalled. Iraqi troops began advancing into some parts of the city, located about 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of Baghdad, earlier this month. But their progress was slowed by snipers, booby traps and the militants' destruction of bridges leading into the city center.
The heavy fighting and limited access to front-lines made it difficult to follow the troops' progress, and Iraqi officials issued a string of sometimes contradictory statements.
Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Belawi told The Associated Press that IS militants stopped firing from inside the government complex at around 8 a.m. Monday and said troops were encircling it as engineering teams cleared booby traps.
Iraqi state TV showed troops, some waving Iraqi flags and others brandishing machine guns, chanting and dancing inside what it described as the government complex. Soldiers could be seen slaughtering sheep in celebration near heavily damaged buildings.
According to Reuters, rebuilding the Iraqi army "to the point that it could recapture and hold territory" has been the biggest obstacle for the U.S.-led coalition looking to contain and destroy the ISIS hordes that have emerged in the war zones of Iraq and Syria over the last two years. Perhaps the victory in Ramadi may be the morale boost the Iraqi army needs to advance east under the cover of Western airstrikes and truly stick it to the Islamic State