IRAQI Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (left) is all smiles as he meets a military officer in Mosul on Sunday.—AFP
IRAQI Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (left) is all smiles as he meets a military officer in Mosul on Sunday.—AFP

MOSUL: Iraq declared victory against the militant Islamic State (IS) group in Mosul on Sunday after a gruelling months-long campaign, dealing the biggest defeat yet to the militant group.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office said he was in “liberated” Mosul to congratulate “the heroic fighters and the Iraqi people on the achievement of the major victory”, three years after IS declared its self-styled caliphate from the city.

The fighting did not seem to be completely over, with gunfire and explosions still audible in the city, but Abadi’s arrival had been expected for days as a signal of the formal end of the battle for Mosul.

PM visits city, asks commanders to consolidate gains

The victory comes at an enormous cost: much of Iraq’s second city is in ruins, thousands are dead or wounded, and nearly a million people have been forced from their homes.

And enormous challenges lie ahead, not just in rebuilding Mosul but in tackling the continued presence elsewhere of IS, which remains a potent force.

Photographs released by his office showed Abadi, dressed in a black military uniform and cap, shaking hands with police and army officers.

His office said Abadi held meetings with commanders in Mosul and issued a series of commands on “sustaining victories and eliminating the defeated remnants” of IS, as well as “establishing security and stability in the liberated city”.

‘Victory for all Iraqis’

Iraqi forces celebrated, waving flags and flashing victory signs, after Abadi arrived in the city.

“This victory is for all Iraqis, not just for us,” Mohanned Jassem, a member of the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, said at the police base where Abadi met commanders.

Jassem, who fought in most of the other main battles of the war against IS, said Mosul was the toughest.

“I took part in fighting in Ramadi and Tikrit and Salaheddin and Baiji and Al-Qayara... but the fighting here in (IS’s) stronghold was the most violent,” he said, an Iraqi flag draped over his shoulders.

IS swept across much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland in a lightning offensive in mid-2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” straddling Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

A US-led coalition launched military operations against IS in Syria and Iraq in mid-2014, carrying out waves of air strikes against the militants and sending advisers to work with local ground forces.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is a key part of the coalition, was among the first world leaders to offer his congratulations.

“Mosul liberated from Daesh,” he tweeted, using an Arabic acronym for IS. “Homage from France to all those, with our troops, who contributed to this victory.”

Iraqi forces launched their campaign to recapture Mosul eight months ago, in October, seizing its eastern side in January and launching the battle for its western part the next month.

But the fight grew tougher when Iraqi forces entered the densely populated Old City on the western bank of the Tigris River that divides the city.

Earlier on Sunday Iraq’s Joint Operations Command had said it killed “30 terrorists” trying to escape across the river.

Even in the final days of the battle, thousands of civilians remained trapped inside the Old City and those who fled arrived grief-stricken after losing relatives in militant sniper fire and bombardments.

The United Nations said this week that since October around 915,000 residents had fled Mosul, which had a population of two million three years ago.

Analysts warned that while the loss of Mosul was a major blow to the militants it was not yet a fatal one. “We should not view the recapture of Mosul as the death knell for IS,” said Patrick Martin, Iraq analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

“If security forces do not take steps to ensure that gains against IS are sustained for the long term, then IS could theoretically resurge and recapture urban terrain,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2017

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