Iraqi Forces Battle ISIS At Gates Of Key Town Of Ramadi

BAGHDAD, April 17 (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces fought Islamic State militants at the gates of the western city of Ramadi on Friday, and local authorities warned it was in danger of falling unless reinforcements arrived soon.

Police sources and provincial council members said the militants were no more than half a kilometer from the center of the capital of Anbar province, and many residents were rushing to leave, waving white flags.

"The situation in Anbar is critical," council member Sabah Karhout told Reuters. Two deputy governors of Anbar echoed his alarm and said the U.S.-led coalition was not conducting enough airstrikes to help save the city.

A spokesman for the Defense Ministry played down the threat to Ramadi and said the army would soon launch a counter-offensive to reverse Islamic State advances in the area.

The Sunni Islamist militants have been making inroads near Ramadi since last week, when the government announced a new offensive to recapture Anbar, large parts of which Islamic State has held for the past year.

The insurgents suffered a major defeat this month when Iraqi troops and Shi'ite paramilitaries routed them from the city of Tikrit, but are now striking back in Anbar and at the country's largest refinery in Baiji. (Writing by Isabel Coles; editing by Andrew Roche)

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Fighting In Iraq