ISIS has launched a wide-scale attack on Iraqi security forces in Ramadi in an apparent attempt to take the rest of the key central Iraqi city, a provincial governor said Friday.
The ISIS offensive, which started Thursday night and continued into Friday, included suicide attacks with explosive-rigged cars near security posts in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, Anbar Gov. Suhaib Al-Rawi said.
Iraqi security forces were clashing with ISIS fighters inside the city on Friday.
Ramadi is just 70 miles (113 kilometers) west of Baghdad and in the middle of Iraq’s Sunni heartland. ISIS is the Sunni extremist group that took over parts of Syria and Iraq — including most of Anbar province — for what it calls its Islamic caliphate.
ISIS has fought Iraqi security forces for control of Ramadi for months, since ISIS took parts of the city last year. Each side has since alternated gains and losses in territory.
The fighting has taken a toll on the Ramadi area’s civilian population. About 114,000 people have fled the area — many heading to Baghdad — in the last month alone, the United Nations refugee agency has said, citing the Iraqi government.
ISIS has maintained its efforts in Ramadi despite months of U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, and despite Iraqi forces’ gains in other parts of the country, including in the northern city of Tikrit last month.
ISIS releases message from al-Baghdadi calling for recruits
Thursday’s Ramadi offensive began on the same day that ISIS released an online audio statement in which ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called for recruits from around the world to “fight in his land or wherever that may be.”
CNN Arabic speakers said the voice was consistent with al-Baghdadi’s previous recordings and showed no signs of frailty.
Al-Baghdadi mentions the Saudi air campaign in Yemen, which started March 26. The recording seems to prove he survived after reportedly being seriously wounded in a coalition airstrike in northern Iraq earlier this year.
Buck Sexton, a former CIA counterterrorism analyst, told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on Thursday that ISIS may be sending a message to its enemies.
“This is obviously ISIS trying to say, ‘Yeah, yeah, you thought you got him but you didn’t. Keep dreaming,’ ” he said.