Retaking of Tal Afar clears militants from province where they began reign of terror in 2014
Iraqi prime minister announces full liberation of Nineveh from ISIL
Iraq’s prime minister Haider Al Abadi declared the northern province of Nineveh fully liberated from ISIL after the district of Tal Afar was taken from extremist militants on Thursday.
"Our happiness is complete, victory has arrived and the province of Nineveh is now entirely in the hands of our forces," Mr Al Abadi said.
“I salute our martyrs, our injured and their families whose sacrifices have made this and other victories possible. Nineveh is liberated,” the prime minister said.
The global coalition to defeat ISIL congratulated Mr Al Abadi and Iraqi security forces on their “stunning victory” less than two weeks after entering the city of Tal Afar.
"Following their historic liberation of Mosul and now a swift and decisive victory in Tal Afar, the ISF have shown, once again, they are an increasingly capable force that can protect the Iraqi people, defeat ISIS within Iraq and secure the country's borders," said Lt Gen Stephen Townsend, the commander of US and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria.
"This is yet another significant achievement for the Iraqi Security Forces and the government and people of Iraq,” Lt Gen Townsend said.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said Iraqi forces "overcame a fanatical enemy fighting in dense urban terrain, and overcame ISIS’s chemical munitions, suicide vests, and human shields".
"Iraqi forces and Kurdish peshmerga troops set the example for all of Iraq and proved how resilient and powerful they could be if they put their differences aside," Col Dillon said.
He also praised the effort to prevent civilian casualties.
However, "dangerous work remains to completely remove explosive devices, identify ISIL fighters in hiding and eliminate any remaining ISIL holdouts", the coalition warned.
Under the command of Mr Al Abadi, all branches of the Iraqi Security Forces took part in the liberation of Tal Afar - the army's 9th, 15th and 16th divisions, the Counter-Terrorism Service, the Federal Police and Emergency Response Division, Iraqi local police, the Popular Mobilisation Forces militias as well as the peshmerga fighters of the Kurdish Regional Government.
Victory in the town, where the majority of the population — both Shiite and Sunni — is ethnically Turkmen, has deprived ISIL of one of its most strategically important strongholds.
The declaration of victory in Nineveh came a day after Jordan and Iraq reopened their only border crossing after a two-year closure forced by ISIL's capture of most of Anbar province. Both sides celebrated the reopening as another victory over the militant group.
The only Iraqi territory still under ISIL control is the city of Hawija, about 300 kilometres north of Baghdad, and desert areas along the border with Syria.