BATTLE-HARDENED troops have stormed a strategic base held for months by brutal Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists, in a final bid to wipe out the jihadi group.
Iraqi soldiers launched the raid on the besieged city of Ramadi – just an hour from the capital Baghdad – early this morning.
The depraved death cult – also referred to by its Arabic acronym Daesh – has held the town since May.
But Iraqi intelligence estimates the number of ISIS fighters entrenched in the centre of Ramadi, capital of Western Anbar province, stands between 250 and 300.
Government troops – backed by Britain and western allies – are now hopeful they can smash the last remaining militants.
Spokesman for the Iraqi army’s counter-terrorism units, Sabah al-Numani, insisted his troops could eradicate the barbaric organisation from Ramadi “within 72 hours”.
He said: “Our forces are advancing toward the government complex in the centre of Ramadi.
“The fighting is in the neighbourhoods around the complex, with support from the air force.”
Sporadic clashes between extremist fighters and government troops are taking place and Iraqi forces are being forced to remove roadside bombs as they push forward.
The operation – launched in November – has gathered momentum in recent days after Iraqi security forces made advances on two fronts, clearing militants from a military command base and the sprawling neighborhood of al-Taamim on the western rim of the city.
The Iraqi air force and the US-led international coalition are providing air support to troops on ground and bombing ISIS targets.
Western jets bombed four jihadi locations in the city on Sunday alone.
Iraqi military planes on Sunday dropped leaflets on Ramadi, asking residents to leave within 72 hours and indicating safe routes for their exit.
But a defence ministry spokesman said that residents of the besieged city were being stopped from leaving so that ISIS could use them as human shields.
Last week, those living under the brutal regime in Ramadi told how they were running out of food.
Many are trying to survive on vegetables and pitiful handouts of flour from militants.
Um Mohammed, a physics teacher who fled Ramadi on Sunday with her elderly mother and is now in a temporary shelter south of the city, said: “Daesh’s ugly face has appeared at last. They are treating women like animals. I feel I was born again now. I feel I was a slave.”
A shortage of cooking gas has forced people to burn scraps of wood for fuel and ISIS fighters have begun piling up branches and tree trunks to use in cooking in a desperate bid to outlast the siege.
Another resident who preferred to be identified only by his first name, Omar, told Reuters reporters: “We are eating old bread with rotten tomatoes.
“I feel I’ll be forced to kill the cat we raised for years if there is nothing left to eat.”