Ramadi was once home to 500,000 people - now it is in ruins after nearly eight months of Islamic State rule.

Smoke rising in the distance, charred homes, twisted metal and broken pieces of concrete that used to be a school - that's what you see from above as you approach the city of Ramadi.

Islamic State (IS) militants controlled Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, for almost eight months before Iraq's counter-terrorism forces supported by coalition airstrikes took it back in January.

It's hard to believe the city was once home to half a million people, it's now a ghost town.

IS rule and weeks of fighting left the city in ruins. Every bridge has been blown up and there is no running water or electricity.

Special forces are still clearing the area of booby traps.

IS militants rigged up dozens of buildings, turning what look like ordinary homes where families lived into houses of horror to kill and terrorise as they please.

In a matter of months, the militants built tunnels, some of them 1km long, to pass through the city undetected by drones surveying the skies above.

This underground network was vital to their survival and has been replicated in other IS-controlled cities and towns.

The commander of Iraq's counter-terrorism forces - an elite, US-trained unit that's heading the liberation of Anbar - told Sky News his troops learned many lessons from the battle in Ramadi and he expects Mosul to be liberated by his forces this year.

"I believe Islamic State, and other terrorist groups, rely on using shock tactics," said General Taleb Shegati al Kenani.

"This philosophy means they'll kill men, women and children by beheading them, or burning them alive and filming them, and distributing that online so ordinary people are shocked.

"This terrifies people - even affecting members of the armed forces - which created difficulties when facing them in the past.

"But in the battle of Ramadi, the armed forces, and ordinary civilians were not so affected by this, they've got past it."

We met Mohammed at a refugee camp near Fallujah. He escaped from Ramadi with his four children when the army arrived.

But as they ran away, his sister was blown up by an IED.

It happened in front of his four-year old daughter Shaimaa, who is now clearly disturbed and hasn't said a word since.

Everyone in the camp told us stories of being locked up in their homes by IS militants for months and being used as human shields.

"Whatever they wanted they took," said Walid Abdel Saleh.

"They broke down the doors, used our cars and nobody could stop them. Anyone who tried was killed."

Hamed Shamaa told Sky News: "One time a man was at an IS checkpoint with his wife and children trying to get (to) the Iraqi army.

"His wife argued with the militants to let them pass so they shot her in the head and then told the husband, 'now you can take her to the army'."

There are almost four million internally displaced people in Iraq and a further 500,000 who have fled the country because of the violence.

With the focus on the fighting rather than reconstruction, it's hard to see how they'll be able to go home anytime soon.

The Iraqi Army calls the liberation of Ramadi a victory, but more victories like this and there'll be nothing left of Iraq.

Islamic State Rule Leaves Iraqi City In Ruins