Middle East

Islamic State steps up assault on Iraqi city of Ramadi

Iraqi security forces and armed tribesmen in Ramadi (16 April 2015) Image copyright AP
Image caption Security officials said Ramadi was deserted but still firmly in the hands of government forces

Islamic State (IS) has stepped up its assault on the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, launching a series of suicide bomb attacks, officials say.

Anbar provincial council member Athal al-Fahdawi said the government compound was within range of IS weapons and that it and the city were "in great danger".

Hundreds of people have fled Ramadi and the surrounding area in recent days.

US-led coalition aircraft are meanwhile bombing IS positions in three villages which were captured on Wednesday.

Nine people are reported to have been summarily killed by militants in one of the villages, Albu Ghanim. The Kurdish website Rudaw said four of the victims were police officers.

Deserted streets

Mr Fahdawi said several IS suicide bombers had targeted government buildings and checkpoints in Ramadi on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Military reinforcements have arrived, but Athal al-Fahdawi said they were insufficient
Image copyright AP
Image caption Hundreds of civilians have fled the city for Baghdad since the IS assault began last week

Although troops and armed tribesmen had previously been able to stop the militants reaching the compound that hosts the provincial government and security headquarters, Mr Fahdawi said it was now within range of their weapons.

The interior ministry has sent "an urgent response unit", but Mr Fahdawi said the reinforcements were insufficient to repel the assault.

Another member of the provincial council insisted that Ramadi was not falling.

But Farhan Mohammed told the BBC that while Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi were both out of the country, Anbar was in the midst of a major battle.

He accused the government in Baghdad of not being serious about tackling the crisis in the province.

The BBC's Paul Adams says Anbar is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and its leaders have accused the Shia-dominated government of ignoring their concerns - something that has helped to turn Anbar into fertile territory for IS.

The latest fighting is taking its toll on the people of Ramadi, who have suffered terribly for more than a decade, our correspondent adds.

More than 2,000 families had fled from their homes because of the fighting, migration ministry official Sattar Nowruz told AP.

Counter-offensives

Earlier this month government forces dealt a major blow to IS by recapturing the city of Tikrit, which the group seized last June.

Mr Abadi said last week that they would follow the victory in Tikrit with campaigns in Anbar province, much of which has been controlled by IS since early 2014, and the town of Baiji, near Iraq's most important oil refinery.

But IS responded by launching its own offensives on Ramadi and the Baiji refinery.

Anbar council member Sabah Karhout told an Iraqi TV channel that a "lack of planning, financial and military means" had led to the government's recent losses around Ramadi.

The US military estimates that IS has lost 25% to 30% of its territory in Iraq to government forces since the US-led coalition air campaign began in August.

However, the group still controls swathes of northern and western Iraq, including the second city of Mosul, which Mr Abadi hopes to recapture later this year.