Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Sunday “victory” over ISIS in the city of Mosul, his office said, after a gruelling nearly nine-month battle.
“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 the Iraqi people for the great victory,” said a statement from his office.
Abadi “arrives in the liberated city of Mosul and congratulates the heroic fighters and the Iraqi people on the achievement of the major victory,” his office said in a statement.
A photo on Abadi’s official Twitter account showed him dressed in a black military uniform and cap as he arrived in Mosul to announce the recapture of the city.
PM Al-Abadi arrives in Mosul to announce its liberation and congratulate the armed forces and Iraqi people on this victory pic.twitter.com/bUtkj7z88A— Haider Al-Abadi (@HaiderAlAbadi) July 9, 2017
The fighting did not seem to be completely over yet, with gunfire still audible in Mosul and air strikes hitting the city around the time the premier’s office released the statement.
Iraqi forces launched the Mosul operation in October, first fighting their way to the city, retaking its east and then assaulting its western side, where some of the heaviest fighting occurred.
Heavy civilian toll
The battle has taken a heavy toll on civilians, pushing more than 900,000 people to flee their homes, only a fraction of home have returned, according to the United Nations.
ISIS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since regained much of the territory they lost.
The recapture of Mosul does not however mark the end of the threat posed by ISIS, which holds territory elsewhere in Iraq and is able to carry out frequent bombings in government-held areas.
Earlier on Sunday, ISIS militants threw themselves into the River Tigris, trying to flee the battlefield in Mosul as they faced imminent defeat by Iraqi forces fighting to dislodge them from their last pocket in the city.
A US-trained elite Iraqi force in the Old City of Mosul reached the Tigris riverside, state TV said.
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The militants have been driven from all but a patch of territory on the western bank of the Tigris bisecting Mosul, where they have staged a last stand in the narrow alleys of the Old City.
Plumes of smoke rose over the Old City on Sunday and the decaying corpses of ISIS fighters lay in the streets. Scattered bursts of gunfire could be heard and several airstrikes were carried out.
Iraqi military spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, told state TV earlier on Sunday that 30 militants had been killed attempting to get away by swimming across the Tigris.
Iraqi flag raised
Later, Iraqiya News ran and on-screen headline saying: ‘Forces from the Counter Terrorism Service raised the Iraqi flag on the Tigris river bank in the Old City of Mosul.”
ISIS vowed on Saturday to “fight to the death” in Mosul.
Cornered in a shrinking area of the city, the militants have resorted to sending women suicide bombers among the thousands of civilians who are emerging from the battlefield wounded, malnourished and fearful.
The battle has also exacted a heavy toll on Iraq’s security forces.
The Iraqi government does not reveal casualty figures, but a funding request from the US Department of Defense said the Counterterrorism Service, which has spearheaded the fight in Mosul, had suffered 40 percent losses.
The United States leads an international coalition that is backing the campaign against ISIS in Mosul by conducting airstrikes against the militants and assisting troops on the ground.
The Department of Defense has requested $1.269 billion in US budget funds for 2018 to continue supporting Iraqi forces.
Without Mosul - by far the largest city to fall under militant control – ISIS’s dominion in Iraq will be reduced to mainly rural, desert areas west and south of the city where tens of thousands of people live.
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 the medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the end of ISIS’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 $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.
The militants are expected to revert to insurgent tactics as they lose territory.