Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul on Sunday and congratulated the armed forces for their “victory” over Islamic State after nearly nine months of urban warfare, bringing an end to jihadist rule in the city.
Islamic State’s defeat in Mosul three years after taking the city is a major blow for the hardline Sunni Islamist group, which is also losing ground in its operational base in the Syrian city of Raqqa from where it has planned global attacks, Reuters reports.
The group, however, still controls territory in Iraq and is expected to revert to more conventional insurgent tactics such as bombings as its self-proclaimed caliphate falls apart, the news agency said.
The battle for Mosul – by far the largest city to fall under the militants’ control – has left large areas in ruins, killed thousands of civilians and displaced nearly 1 million people.
“The commander in chief of the armed forces [Prime Minister] Haider al-Abadi arrived in the liberated city of Mosul and congratulated the heroic fighters and Iraqi people for the great victory,” his office said in a statement.
State television later showed Abadi touring Mosul on foot alongside residents of Iraq’s second-largest city.
Air strikes and exchanges of gunfire could still be heard in the narrow streets of Mosul’s Old City, where the group has staged its last stand against Iraqi forces backed by a US-led international coalition.
Abadi met commanders in west Mosul who led the battle, but he has yet to issue a formal declaration that the entire city has been retaken from the group which is also known as ISIS.
Abadi’s spokesman, Saad al-Hadithi, said victory would not be formally declared until the few remaining Islamic State militants were cleared from Mosul.
Iraq still faces uncertainty and long-term stability will be possible only if the government contains ethnic and sectarian tensions which have dogged the country since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The fall of Mosul exposes fractures between Arabs and Kurds over disputed territories, and between Sunnis and the Shi’ite majority.
The ISIS vowed to “fight to the death” in Mosul, but Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told state TV that 30 militants had been killed attempting to flee by swimming across the River Tigris that bisects the city.
It is almost exactly three years since the ultra-hardline group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed a “caliphate” spanning Syria and Iraq from the pulpit of Mosul’s medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque.
Abadi declared the end of Islamic State’s “state of falsehood” a week ago, after security forces retook the mosque – although only after retreating militants blew it up.
The United Nations predicts it will cost more than US$1 billion to repair basic infrastructure in Mosul. In some of the worst affected areas, almost no buildings appear to have escaped damage and Mosul’s dense construction means the extent of the devastation might be underestimated, UN officials said.
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