Iraq's military command has warned civilians in Ramadi, an important Islamic State (Isis)-held stronghold, to leave the area in the strongest evidence yet that a long-awaited operation to retake the provincial capital will soon be under way.
Ramadi families are requested to leave the city from its southern Himaira area, according to an official statement aired on Iraqi state TV. That comes after Iraqi government forces advanced further into the centre of Ramadi, which was captured by IS in May following a spectacular retreat by Iraqi forces.
The Iraqi soldiers took the Palestinian Bridge after the US-led coalition carried out air strikes cutting off a key supply route for IS. The aerial bombings hit two of the militant group's tactical units and destroyed four of its buildings, according to the Combined Joint Task Force. Following the raids, Iraqi forces, made up of Shia volunteers and US-trained soldiers, captured equipment used by IS, including small weapons, ammunition and grenades.
The bridge provides a clear path into the centre of the city from the west, allowing Iraqi soldiers to advance simultaneously on two fronts. Earlier in November, they made their first major advance on the Sunni militant group in six months.
Videos and photographs obtained by International Business Times shows an Iraqi rapid reaction force dubbed "Roger" – with tanks and weapons seized in eastern Ramadi – on the outskirts of the city. They cleared a path of improvised explosive devices hidden in the ground, allowing more troops to advance.
Pentagon spokesman Col David Warren said Iraqi troops would retake the strategic city "soon". Warren said government forces recently outnumbered Islamic State in Ramadi by "as many as 10 to one" and the offensive to reclaim the city employs 8,000 to 10,000 fighters.
The fall of Ramadi earlier in 2015 sparked severe criticism from the US, which has been arming and training Iraqi forces, also backing them against the radical Islamic group with air strikes.