U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner congratulates Iraqi forces in retaking Ramadi but cautions work remains. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Monday (December 28) congratulated Iraqi forces on retaking the city of Ramadi from Islamic State forces. Iraq flew its flag above the main government complex in the western city of Ramadi, marking its military's first major victory over Islamic State since the army collapsed in the face of the fighters' shock advance 18 months ago. Footage aired on state television showed a handful of soldiers approach a low-rise building and then emerge on its roof to hoist a small tricolor banner above their heads. "We can commend, rather, the government of Iraq and the brave Iraqi forces that have displayed such tremendous perseverance as well as courage in the fight to return Ramadi the capital of Anbar province back to the Iraqi people," Toner said at a briefing for reporters. If the government retains control of Ramadi, which was seized by Islamic State fighters in May, it would become the first city recaptured by Iraq's U.S.-trained army since it fled from the hardline militants in June 2014. In previous battles since then, the Iraqi armed forces operated mainly in a supporting role beside Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias. Toner cautioned there was still work left to do. "The Iraqi national flag is once again flying over Ramadi. That's a significant step forward but there's going to be, still as I said, pockets of resistance as Iraqi troops move to clean up the city," Toner said. "Now the second part of this very hard process comes into play which is creating an environment where all people can return to their homes," he added. Baghdad has long said it would prove its forces' rebuilt capability by rolling back militant advances in Anbar, the mainly Sunni province encompassing the fertile Euphrates River valley from Baghdad's outskirts to the Syrian border. The United States and its coalition partners had supported the operation with more than 630 air strikes and training and equipment, a White House official said. U.S. President Barack Obama was updated on the progress during his vacation in Hawaii.