'Human shields' flee ISIS' clutches

BAGHDAD • Dozens of families the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had been using as human shields in Ramadi escaped to safety today as Iraqi forces closed in on the extremists' last redoubts.

A day after punching deep into the city centre, forces led by the elite counter-terrorism service (CTS) inched towards the governmental compound in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's vast Anbar province.

"The anti-terrorism troops are now poised to break into the Hoz area where the governmental compound is located," a brigadier-general in the force told Agence France-Presse.

Anbar officials said around 50 families managed to slip away during the fighting around the government compound.

Provincial council spokesman Eid Ammash al-Karbuli said the residents were mostly children, women and elderly men who raised white flags as they approached the security forces.

They were fed and buses were being prepared to take them to a camp away from the front lines, he said.

The recapture of the government compound would mark another key step towards reasserting full control over Ramadi, whose liberation a CTS spokesman said should be achieved by today.

Government forces, which have been supported by daily air strikes from the United States-led coalition, had to move carefully through the devastated city. Retreating ISIS fighters usually booby-trap their abandoned positions.

Officials estimated before the latest push into Ramadi that no more than 300 ISIS fighters remained holed up in the centre.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2015, with the headline ''Human shields' flee ISIS' clutches'. Print Edition | Subscribe