Iraq to start attack on ISIS-held Ramadi ‘in coming hours’
BAGHDAD - Iraq's armed forces will start in the coming hours an operation to retake the city of Ramadi from Islamic State (ISIS) militants, state TV reported, citing the army chief of staff.
"The operation to free Ramadi will begin in the coming hours," the TV cited him as saying in a headline on screen, giving no further details and not identifying the officer by name.
Islamic State militants have been preventing civilians from leaving Ramadi ahead of the planned attack by the Iraqi army, an Iraqi Defence Ministry spokesman said on Monday.
"There are families that managed to escape the gangs of Daesh," the spokesman, Naseer Nuri, said, using a local derogatory name for the group.
"There is intelligence information from inside the city that they are preventing families from leaving; they plan to use them as human shields," he added, without indicating the number of those who had managed to flee.
Iraqi military planes on Sunday dropped leaflets on Ramadi, asking residents to leave within 72 hours and indicating safe routes for their exit.
Iraqi intelligence estimates the number of Islamic State fighters that are entrenched in the centre of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, at between 250 and 300.
The campaign to retake the city could be a tough urban battle, with ISIS defense encompassing booby-trapped buildings, elaborate tunnels and roadside bombs.