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Strategists say it's too early to cheer Iraq's Ramadi victory over ISIS

December 28, 2015: A celebration in Baghdad after Iraqi security forces retook Ramadi city from Daesh
Haydar Hadi | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
December 28, 2015: A celebration in Baghdad after Iraqi security forces retook Ramadi city from Daesh

Washington is hailing Iraq's recapture of Ramadi from the Islamic State (IS, or ISIS) as a key step forward in the global battle against terror, but it may still be too early to celebrate.

Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, was seized by the militant organization in May. On Monday, Iraqi government forces finally declared victory after months of fighting, with televised images showing the Iraqi flag flying at a government complex.

U.S. defense secretary Ash Carter congratulated Iraq late on Monday, calling the Ramadi's recapture "a significant step forward in the campaign to defeat this barbaric group."

But not everyone is as optimistic.

"The capture of Ramadi isn't that much a strategic event in and of itself. The fight definitely isn't over yet," Sim Tack, director of analytical support and military analyst at Stratfor, told CNBC on Tuesday.

"They are still clearing out pockets of the city, there's going to be a long process before they can call Ramadi secure. And then, there's still the continuing threat from IS, which still holds Fallujah and other areas in Anbar."

Those sentiments were shared by Iraqi general Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar.

"The [government] troops only entered the government complex. We can't say that Ramadi is fully liberated. There are still neighborhoods under their control and there are still pockets of resistance," he told the Associated Press on Monday, putting the proportion of Ramadi still controlled by militants at 30 percent.

Fallujah is the second major city in the Anbar province, an area that has long been the country's center of strife. Once a key battleground in the U.S. invasion of Iraq from 2003-2011, the state has become an ISIS stronghold over the past year as the extremist organization expanded deeper into Iraq and Syria.

ISIS forces took control of Fallujah at the beginning of 2014 and formally seized control of Ramadi in May of this year. In July, the Iraq government began a full-scale military operation to retake the province, assisted by airstrikes from an American-led coalition.

"Ramadi has become a strategic location in the minds of people. but we've seen the town change hands from Iraqis to IS before and now we're seeing it in the hands of the Iraqi military again. But their job is far from done," Tack noted.

The time-frame of Iraq's anti-ISIS operations tend to vary by city. While the battle for Ramadi lasted eight months, it took a month to win back Tikrit, a city north of Baghdad and hometown of Saddam Hussein.

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