Iraqi authorities expect to announce Monday that they have retaken the key city of Ramadi, seven months after ISIS seized it in what was seen as an embarrassing defeat for the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces, a senior Iraqi security official told NBC News on Sunday night.
Iraqi forces launched an offensive to retake Ramadi, the largest city in Iraq’s western Anbar Province, earlier this month, advancing toward the city center and surrounding it with thousands of fighters.
A spokesman for Iraq’s counterterrorism forces told NBC News last week that fewer than 100 ISIS fighters were believed to be in the city.
The senior security official said Iraqi forces were facing no resistance from ISIS militants, who had few snipers left in the city center.
The ISIS fighters “for sure” will try to use suicide vests once they lost hope, but the counterterrorism forces are expected to “announce the victory over ISIS militants” sometime Monday afternoon, the source said.
Military activities had finished for the evening and were to resume at dawn, with engineering units working to defuse improvised explosive devices planted in streets, buildings and houses, he said.
When ISIS seized Ramadi in May, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter came under questioning over the Iraqi forces’ willingness to fight.
Sunday, as reports spread that the Iraqi forces were near victory in Ramadi, Army Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the Western coalition opposing ISIS, congratulated Iraq forces “for their continued success.”
“It is the result of many months of hard work by the Iraqi Army, the Counter Terrorism Service, the Iraqi Air Force, local and federal police, and tribal fighters, all supported by over 600 Coalition airstrikes since July,” Warren said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to counter ISIS, said Sunday that the coalition was “proud” to have been of help.
The United Nations estimates that more than 180,000 people have been displaced since ISIS began its push for Ramadi in April.