Islamic State militants seized the center of Ramadi in western Iraq and raised their black flag over the government compound, local officials said.
The fighters forced their way into the city center under the cover of clouds of dust formed after six near simultaneous car bombings, said Sheikh Faris al-Dulaimi by phone from Ramadi. They also burned down a central police station.
Al Jazeera television put the death toll from Friday’s attack at 100 Iraqi soldiers and allied tribal fighters, with more than 150 wounded.
Islamic State’s advance into Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, is a setback to Iraq’s government, which says it has reversed the tide of conquests by the jihadist group that began last summer. Iraqi forces declared the liberation of the city of Tikrit at the end of March, and have begun efforts to dislodge the group from its strongholds in Anbar, aided by U.S.-led airstrikes.
The battle for Ramadi, about 110 kilometers (68 miles) west of Baghdad, has been going on since last year. Islamic State stepped up its offensive in April and managed to take some areas in the north and east. Overnight, militants pushed deeper into the city through the northwestern Albu Alwan district.
Fighting is ongoing, with tribal fighters and police forces requesting reinforcements from Baghdad, Ahmed al-Dulaimi, another official, said by phone. He said Islamic State fighters control 90 percent of Ramadi, and have told civilians not to leave their homes.
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi called for national unity in a televised address, and urged Iraqis not to believe the “rumors spread by the enemy.” He said that the recapture of Tikrit was the “beginning of the collapse” of the jihadists, and that they will soon be driven from Anbar.
The U.S. military said that while it didn’t have all the details of the latest fighting in Ramadi, any advance by Islamic State would prove short-lived and the group is in retreat in the longer term.
“We will see episodic, temporary successes” for the jihadists that “typically don’t materialize into long-term gains,” Marine Corps Brig. General Thomas Weidley, chief of staff of the U.S. operation against Islamic State, told reporters in a telephone conference on Friday.
“We’ve seen similar attacks in Ramadi over the last several months” which Iraqi forces were able to repel, Weidley said. More broadly, Islamic State “does remain on the defensive,” he said, citing defeats for the jihadist group in Tikrit, Kobani and Kurdish regions of Iraq.