Ramadi, Iraq (file)
Ramadi, Iraq (file)Reuters

The Islamic State (ISIS) group abandoned its last stronghold in Ramadi Sunday, effectively handing Iraqi forces their biggest victory since last year's massive jihadist nationwide offensive.

There were still parts of the flashpoint government complex the elite counter-terrorism service could not enter, as jihadists had rigged the entire area with explosives before retreating.

And while pockets of jihadists may remain, Iraqi forces said they no longer faced any resistance, and officials were already congratulating them for liberating Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.

"All Daesh (ISIS) fighters have left. There is no resistance," Sabah al-Numan, the counter-terrorism force's spokesman, told the AFP news agency Sunday evening.

"The operation is almost wrapped up", as a major clearing effort was still needed to allow forces to move in.

People waving Iraqi flags celebrated the Ramadi victory in several cities, including Baghdad and the holy Shiite city of Karbala.

Parliament Speaker Salim al-Juburi issued a statement congratulating the "heroes of the security forces for a great victory, which resulted in the liberation of the city of Ramadi from terrorism."

The American-led coalition, which was heavily involved in supporting Iraqi forces in Ramadi, also congratulated them on the success of an operation that began soon after they lost the city in May.

"It is the result of many months of hard work by the Iraqi Army, the Counter Terrorism Service, the Iraqi Air Force, local and federal police and tribal fighters all supported by over 600 coalition air strikes since July," spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said, according to AFP.

Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led coalition air strikes had punched into the center of Ramadi on Tuesday, in a final push to retake the city.

Fighting over the past two days had been concentrated around the government complex, whose recapture had become synonymous with victory in the battle for Ramadi.

According to medical sources, 93 members of the security forces were brought in with injuries on Sunday alone.

"The dead bodies are taken directly to the main military hospital" near the airport, said one hospital source.

At least five government fighters have been killed over the past two days alone, but no official has divulged any overall toll for the operation.

Estimates a week ago were that the Islamic State had around 400 fighters to defend central Ramadi, many of them protecting the government compound.

Those numbers were thought to have drastically declined over the past two days, with several fighters retreating from the main battle and dozens of others killed in fighting or in suicide attacks.

Ali Dawood, the head of the neighbouring Khaldiya council, said ISIS fighters used civilians as human shields to slip out of the government complex.

"Daesh fighters forced all the families living around the compound to go with them in order to flee towards Sichariyah, Sufiya and Jweiba," on the eastern outskirts of Ramadi, he said.

Ramadi lies about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad and is the capital of Anbar, which is Iraq's largest province and borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Government forces held off months of ISIS assaults in Ramadi until May 2015, when the jihadists blitzed them with massive suicide car bombs and seized full control of the city.

The fightback has often been laborious and poisoned by political wrangling, but Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said a week ago that Iraqi forces had reclaimed half of the territory nationwide lost to ISIS last year.

ISIS still holds Fallujah, which lies in the Euphrates Valley between Ramadi and Baghdad, as well as the country's second city of Mosul.

The group, which captured swathes of land in Syria and Iraq and has declared a “caliphate” in those areas, has conducted cruel atrocities, including beheadings and burning alive of hostages.

Last week, new documents seized from ISIS revealed fatwa Islamic religious rulings by the group on a host of issues - including organ harvesting and rape.

AFP contributed to this report.