A triumphant Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday the coming year will see his forces defeat the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, after his military achieved its first major victory since collapsing in the face of the fighters 18 months ago.
Iraqi forces flew the national flag above the main government complex in Ramadi earlier in the day, declaring they had recaptured the city, a provincial capital west of Baghdad which fell to IS fighters in May.
“2016 will be the year of the big and final victory, when Daesh’s (IS) presence in Iraq will be terminated,” Abadi said in a speech broadcast on state television.
“We are coming to liberate Mosul and it will be the fatal and final blow to Daesh,” he added.
Mosul, northern Iraq’s main city, is by far the largest population centre in the self-proclaimed caliphate IS rules in Iraq and Syria.
The army’s apparent capture of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province in the Euphrates River valley west of Baghdad, marks a major milestone for US-trained force that crumbled when IS fighters charged into Iraq in June 2014.
In previous battles since then, Iraq’s armed forces operated mainly in a supporting role beside Iranian-backed Shia militias.
Soldiers were shown on state television publicly slaughtering a sheep in an act of celebration.
Gunshots and an explosion could be heard as a state TV reporter interviewed other soldiers celebrating the victory with their automatic weapons held in the air.
A separate plume of smoke could be seen nearby.
US Army Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for a US-led coalition backing Iraqi forces, said in a statement: “The clearance of the government centre is a significant accomplishment and is the result of many months of hard work.”