BAGHDAD — Iraqi troops battling the Islamic State group on Tuesday retook a neighborhood on the outskirts of Ramadi, a provincial capital west of Baghdad that was captured by the extremists earlier this year, officials said.
The development is the first significant incursion into Ramadi since Iraqi forces and allied Shiite militiamen, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, announced last month a major offensive to free the Anbar province's capital. It also follows a complete siege of the city by Iraqi troops and taking of the Palestine Bridge, a main gateway to Ramadi.
Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for the Iraqi special forces unit fighting in Ramadi, said the troops liberated the southwestern, Tamim neighborhood.
"This area is considered an important region for Daesh," added al-Numani, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
He cautioned that there is still a long battle ahead, and that Warar River, a tributary of the Euphrates, separates the troops in Tamim from the center of Ramadi.
"We cannot give a specific time we will liberate the city," said al-Numani, adding that IS had "destroyed many of the bridges" over the river.
IS captured Ramadi in May, dealing the biggest blow to Iraqi forces since the fall of the city of Mosul in the summer of 2014.
The Iraqi government soon announced a counter-offensive, but progress has been sluggish.
On Monday, the U.S.-led coalition said it had carried out 20 airstrikes in Iraq, six of which targeted IS units, weaponry and positions near Ramadi.