UN report: Thousands of Ramadi buildings damaged, destroyed

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BAGHDAD (AP) — A United Nations report published Saturday finds that the ongoing battle for the city of Ramadi has damaged or destroyed more than 4,500 buildings. The findings, gathered by comparing satellite imagery of the city collected in July 2014 to imagery collected in December, reveal that nearly 1,500 buildings have been completely destroyed, the report said.

The Islamic State group overran Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, in May after months of clashes with Iraqi government forces. Last month government forces retook the city's western and central districts under cover of heavy coalition air bombardment.

"The kind of damage that happened in Ramadi is incomparable to what we saw in Tikrit," said Lise Grande, the U.N.'s deputy special representative to Iraq, referring to the last major city that forces aligned with the Iraqi government took back from IS control. The extent of the damage in Ramadi, she says, raises concerns about reconstruction.

Grande emphasized the report was preliminary as U.N. teams have not yet been able to access Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, on the ground.

While members of the U.S.-led coalition to fight IS have pledged more than $50 million to Iraqi reconstruction, Iraqi and coalition officials estimate that rebuilding Ramadi alone could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the past month the U.S.-led coalition planes launched more than 140 airstrikes at IS targets in and around Ramadi.

IS swept into Iraq in the summer of 2014, overrunning nearly a third of the country including Iraq's second largest city of Mosul. Since then, Kurdish forces in the north and fighters aligned with the central government in the country's western and central provinces have slowly clawed back some territory from the militant group, often under cover of heavy coalition air bombardment. But months of violence and the scorched earth practices IS employs upon retreat have left much of the reclaimed territory uninhabitable. As of November the U.N. estimated that 3 million Iraqis remained displaced by violence.

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