In a major offensive, Iraqi forces are close to recapturing the town of Ramadi, Islamic State's (Isis) stronghold located just hours away from Baghdad. The army has made steady progress despite being slowed by mines and bombs en route.

Brigadier Yahya Rasool of the Iraqi army said soldiers had advanced into the Hoz neighbourhood in an operation that commenced on 22 December. He was quoted as saying: "The counter-terrorism forces are within 800 meters (0.5 mile) from the government complex... Air strikes helped detonate explosive devices and booby-trapped houses, facilitating our advance."

The army advanced by about 1km since 25 December, he said. It will take some more days for the troops to recapture the entire province. Many civilians have fled the region after the IS onslaught. The few remaining have taken shelter in the city's hospital to avoid being killed by state air strikes.

Rasool added, "The campaign's priority is to avoid casualties among civilians and the troops, no matter how long it takes." If Iraqi forces manage to retake Ramadi, which the IS (Daesh) captured in May 2015, it will be a major achievement for the army in its battle against the terror group.

The army is pushing forward from three sides to liberate Ramadi. "Our troops are now advancing towards their targets but were delayed because the criminals have booby-trapped everything," said special operations commander Sami al-Aridhi.

Ramadi is situated in the fertile Euphrates River valley, just a two-hour drive from Baghdad. Previous army attempts to overthrow the militants from the area were met with strong resistance.

But this time the government forces are backed by air support from an international coalition led by the US, helping the army make firm inroads. After Ramadi, the government plans to reclaim the city of Mosul from IS.

Iraqi Security Forces recapture Ramadi from Isis
Smoke rises during an air strike in Ramadi city, December 25, 2015 REUTERS