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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Iraq declares 'final victory' over ISIL in Mosul

Prime minister announces "end and failure" of the extremists' attempt to rule city after day-long bombing targeted final pockets of resistance

Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi, centre, declares Mosul's liberation from ISIL in the northern Iraqi city on July 10, 2017, after nine months of fierce fighting by Iraqi forces and a US-led coalition to oust the militants from their final stronghold in the country. Iraq Prime Minister's Office / EPA
Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi, centre, declares Mosul's liberation from ISIL in the northern Iraqi city on July 10, 2017, after nine months of fierce fighting by Iraqi forces and a US-led coalition to oust the militants from their final stronghold in the country. Iraq Prime Minister's Office / EPA

MOSUL // Prime minister Haider Al Abadi declared victory over ISIL in Mosul on Monday evening, after nearly nine months of gruelling combat to drive the militants out of Iraq's second-largest city.

"We announce the total victory for Iraq and all Iraqis," Mr Al Abadi said, speaking from a small base in western Mosul on the edge of the Old City, where the last pockets of resistance had been holding out.

"I announce here to the whole world today the end and failure and collapse of the mythical terrorist Daesh state," Mr Al Abadi said in a televised address.

Air strikes by the US-led coalition against ISIL continued to pound Mosul's historic centre earlier on Monday, a day after the prime minister flew in to announce that city taken by ISIL in June 2014 had been "liberated".

But in spite of nationwide celebrations on Sunday, civilians remained trapped inside the north-west part of the Old City where ISIL fighters had made a final stand in the past weeks, as exposed to the bombs as the surviving militants.

There was sporadic gunfire on Monday, but military efforts to eliminate the last pocket of resistance were largely limited to a barrage from above by the US-led coalition.

In a sign of desperation, a group of about 130 militants staged a kamikaze style attack on army positions in the afternoon in an attempt to break out from the northern edge of the Old City.

They were repelled with the help of air strikes, but firefights and heavy bombardment continued until nightfall.

From early morning, dishevelled families with emaciated children and exhausted elderly members trickled out of the militant-held area on western bank of the Tigris, a sliver of territory no more than 60 metres by 300m. Gaunt and perspiring, most did not even have the strength to carry bags, and they struggled to prop up elderly women on the point of collapse and haul their infants with them.

But despite their condition, they were met with distrust and hostility by Iraqi forces, who consider them to be ISIL members.

The extremists retreated into the Old City with their families as they lost control of the rest of Mosul, and in the final stages of the battle their wives — and even children — began to play an active role in the fighting, Iraqi soldiers say. In the past few weeks, some ISIL women wearing explosive vests have mixed in with escaping civilians and blown themselves up upon reaching Iraqi military lines.

A series of loud explosions shook the ground around the Old City and sent huge pillars of smoke into the sky on Monday before a throng of soldiers emerged from the historic area's ruins and passed the tanks and armoured vehicles lined up under Mosul's fifth bridge crossing the Tigris.

Shouting and cheering, the soldiers pushed in front of them a thin young man whose hands had been tied behind his back with a piece of cloth. Wearing only a pair of baggy trousers, his face was obscured by a bushy beard and soot that blackened his skin. A soldier kicked him from behind and followed up by jabbing a rifle barrel into his back.

Terrified, the man pleaded his innocence, and was spared mob justice when he was led off to an intelligence service base down the road. There, detained men with their hands bound were forced to squat next to a wall, exposed to the blazing sun. Their families huddled in the shade of a nearby building, occasionally shooting suspicious glances at the soldiers milling around.

The intensity of the air strikes contrasted with the inactivity of the soldiers surrounding the militant-held area, from where smoke seldom ceased to rise. Large ordinance could be seen dropping from the sky, and explosions reverberated through the dusty streets and narrow alleys at regular intervals.

Iraqi forces came to increasingly rely on air support in the final months of the battle for Mosul, and the air strikes intensified after the assault on the Old City began. There is little chance of anything but rubble remaining in the area not yet liberated.

On the edge of the Old City, west Mosul has begun what is likely to be a slow recovery. Amid rows of shattered shopfronts, some merchants have replenished their shelves, selling soft drinks, sweets and cigarettes, forbidden under ISIL's fundamentalist rule.

"We are getting more business now than when we reopened the shop a month ago. More people are coming back from the camps, about one hundred families now live in this neighbourhood," said Ahmed, whose shop is located a few hundred metres from the Old City.

A little further out still, diggers were laying water pipes on a main road torn up by air strikes, a common tactic to prevent ISIL from using suicide car bombs. Car repair shops were busy patching up vehicles with shattered windscreens, doors torn off or roofs caved in.

Despite these limited signs of recovery, destruction is widespread in west Mosul, where fighting began in February. Family homes, commercial buildings and schools all lie in rubble.

The destruction provides some survivors with a meagre source of revenue, however: boys as young as five were on Monday scavenging the ruins for scrap metal to sell for a few dollars, allowing them to feed their families for another day.

In a statement issued by the White House, U.S. President Donalt Trump said: "Today, Iraqi Security Forces, supported by the United States and the Global Coalition, liberated the city of Mosul from its long nightmare under the rule of ISIS.

"We congratulate Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi Security Forces, and all Iraqis for their victory over terrorists who are the enemies of all civilized people.

"We mourn the thousands of Iraqis brutally killed by ISIS and the millions of Iraqis who suffered at the hands of ISIS. We grieve with the Iraqi people for the loss of the heroic soldiers and Peshmerga who gave their lives to restore life to their country, and we honor their sacrifice.

"We in the United States and the Global Coalition are proud to stand with the Iraqi Security Forces and all those who made this moment of liberation possible.

"We have made tremendous progress against ISIS – more in the past 6 months than in the years since ISIS became a major threat. The victory in Mosul, a city where ISIS once proclaimed its so-called 'caliphate', signals that its days in Iraq and Syria are numbered. We will continue to seek the total destruction of ISIS."