Iraqi forces in fierce battles with ISIS in Ramadi
Government forces have been slowed by snipers, booby traps, roadside bombs and suicide attackers
Iraqi forces on Saturday clashed with diehard ISIS militants defending the former government complex in the heart of the city of Ramadi, later claiming control over Al-Hoz neighborhood in the western city, Al Arabiya News Channel correspondent reported.
After a major push on Tuesday that broke ISIS defenses around the city center, government forces have been slowed by snipers, booby traps, roadside bombs and suicide attackers.
While initial hopes of a quick victory have faded, Iraq's elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) and the army have advanced steadily through the devastated capital of Anbar province.
They reached a key intersection in the Hoz neighborhood home to the government complex, whose recapture would go a long way towards ensuring a full recapture of Ramadi.
"There are fierce battles pitting members of the Daesh (an Arab acronym for ISIS) organization against the Iraqi forces there now," said Ahmed al-Dulaimi, a police captain.
He said the latest fighting had left at least two members of the Iraqi security forces dead and nine wounded.
At least three were killed on Friday, according to several senior officers and local officials.
The figures they provide for ISIS casualties are high, with at least 23 killed on Friday alone.
The number of ISIS fighters hunkered down in central Ramadi was estimated at the start of the operation five days ago at no more than 400.
"You have the 8th Iraqi army and CTS... and they're all pushing forward," said Colonel Steve Warren, the spokesman for the US-led coalition which has been supporting Iraqi forces in Ramadi with daily air strikes.
"CTS have made more progress, they're several hundred meters (yards) closer to the government complex," Warren said.
The advance by the government forces has also been hampered by the possible presence of dozens of families trapped in the combat zone and used by ISIS as human shields.
Government forces held off months of ISIS assaults in Ramadi until May 2015, when the jihadists blitzed their opponents with massive suicide car bombs and seized full control of the city.
That defeat was Baghdad's worst in the war against ISIS, and a victory now would provide a welcome boost to the much-criticized federal forces.