Iraqi PM celebrates victory over Islamic State group in 'liberated' Mosul
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Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul on Sunday to congratulate the armed forces for their "victory" over the Islamic State (IS) group in the city.
"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.
However, the premier later indicated he would only declare victory once final pockets of resistance were cleared.
"Victory is certain, and what remains of Daesh is surrounded... and it is just a matter of time for us to announce the great victory to our people," Abadi said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for the IS group.
The delay "comes out of my respect and appreciation for our... forces that are continuing the clearing operation," he said.
"There are just one or two pockets of Daesh remnants left," and "the major victory is in hand," the premier added.
Dressed in a black military uniform, the prime minister met field commanders, kissed babies and toured a reopened market in western Mosul. At one point, he briefly draped an Iraqi flag on his shoulders.
The prime minister’s declaration comes after Lt. Gen. Jassim Nizal of the army's 9th Division said his forces had achieved "victory" in their sector. His soldiers danced to patriotic music atop tanks even as airstrikes sent plumes of smoke into the sky nearby.
Iraqi forces launched the operation to retake Mosul in October. The Islamic State (IS) group now controls less than one square kilometre of territory in Mosul's Old City, but is using human shields, suicide bombers and snipers in a fight to the death.
The militants captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, in a matter of days in the summer of 2014. Nizal acknowledged that many of his men were among those who fled the city at that time, in a humiliating defeat for the country's armed forces.
"Some things happened here, that's true," he said. "But we have come back."
France-based security analyst Julien Theron told FRANCE 24 that the recapture of Mosul does not translate into a total victory over the IS group.
“What is being done is to undermine the territorial grip that they [IS group] have on the city,” Theron explained.
“But I’m not sure that they won’t remain as some clandestine cell. What happened with Al Qaeda in Iraq is that they actually stayed clandestine and re-formed and became ISIS afterwards, meaning there’s still a lot to do in Iraq and building a proper government that includes the Sunni community is very important now.”
Much of Mosul's Old City and surrounding areas have been devastated by months of grueling urban combat. On Sunday a line of tired civilians filed out of the Old City on foot, past the carcasses of destroyed apartment blocks lining the cratered roads.
Heba Walid held her sister-in-law's baby, which was born into war. The parents of the six-month-old, along with 15 other family members, were killed last month when an airstrike hit their home. When Walid ran out of formula, she fed the baby a paste of crushed biscuits mixed with water.
Now they are among more than 897,000 people displaced by the fighting in Mosul.
The loss of the city marks a major defeat for the IS group, which has suffered a series of major setbacks over the past year.
US-backed Syrian forces have pushed into the group's de facto capital, the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, but a final victory there could be months away, and the extremists still hold several smaller towns and villages across Iraq and Syria.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)