Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived in Mosul on Sunday to announce the city’s “liberation” from the Islamic State, and to congratulate the Iraqi armed forces and people on their “victory” in the city after nearly nine months of urban warfare, and bringing an end to jihadist rule in the city, the WSJ reported. As a reminder, Mosul is where the Islamic State achieved its greatest military victory when it captured the city in just four days on June 29, 2014 and handed the Iraqi military a humiliating defeat, sending shock waves through the region. Subsequent looting of Mosul’s central bank provided the Islamic State with over $400 million in “seed funding” which the terrorist organization promptly put to bad use.
The Iraqi PMI was expected to make an official victory announcement in the northern city later Sunday, after U.S.-backed Iraqi forces waged more than eight months of battle to reclaim it.
Troops have in recent days been fighting to clear the final Islamic State-occupied pockets of Mosul’s dense Old City, on the western bank of the Tigris river.
Loaders and other heavy machinery cleared paths for Iraqi soldiers, who appeared at ease ahead of the recapture, despite bursts of gunfire nearby.
At the same time, the U.S.-led coalition said Sunday it had carried out two strikes near Mosul that destroyed 21 Islamic State fighting positions. Reporting on location, the WSJ adds that Humvees patrolling the area rolled over downed electrical lines “in a stark indication of the toll the siege has taken on Mosul’s infrastructure and the likely high cost of rebuilding the city and resuming basic services there.”
The symbolic victory takes place three years after the Islamic State seized Mosul in a 2014 blitz that saw it capture one-third of Iraq’s territory, including the northern city. The battle for Mosul – by far the largest city to fall under the militants’ control – left large areas in ruins, killed thousands of civilians and displaced nearly one million people.
“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 Iraqi people for the great victory,” his office said in a statement.
As Reuters adds, Abadi met commanders in west Mosul who led the battle, but he has yet to issue a formal declaration that the entire city has been retaken for the group which is also known as ISIS. Still, French President Emmanuel Macron – whose country is part of the coalition that has conducted airstrikes and provided training and assistance to Iraqi forces on the battlefield, welcomed the defeat.
“Mosul liberated from ISIS: France pays homage to all those, who alongside our troops, contributed to this victory,” Macron said on Twitter.
Mossoul libérée de Daech : hommage de la France à tous ceux, avec nos troupes, qui ont contribué à cette victoire.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) July 9, 2017
The Islamic State lost its administrative grip over Mosul in October, when government forces pushed it from the eastern half of the city, and its ultimate defeat here was all but a foregone conclusion. In its final days, the terrorist group mustered only a couple hundred fighters, cornered on a tiny patch of territory on the western bank of the Tigris River.
The loss of Mosul, while largely expected, is a major blow for ISIS, which is also losing ground in its operational base in the Syrian city of Raqqa, where it has planned global attacks. Amusingly, ISIS had group vowed to “fight to the death” in Mosul, but Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told state TV that 30 militants had been killed attempting to flee by swimming across the River Tigris that bisects the city. Cornered in a shrinking area, the militants have resorted to sending women suicide bombers among the thousands of civilians who are emerging from the battlefield wounded, malnourished and fearful, Iraqi army officers said.
That said, the Islamic State is far from vanquished in Iraq and elsewhere in the region It still controls small swaths of Iraq and large stretches of neighboring Syria. Its members and followers, more dispersed than ever, are likely to pose a terrorist threat in Baghdad, the Middle East and beyond for years to come. As the WSJ adds, “Islamic State’s defeat in Mosul would be a major military, psychological and political blow for the ruthless Sunni Muslim militant group.“
A full timeline of the “rise and spread”, and now fall, of the Islamic State can be found here.
What happens next?
Aside from Mosul, across the border in Syria a battle is raging to dislodge IS from Raqqa, the second capital of its self-declared caliphate. Fighting will push down the Euphrates valley to Deir al-Zour, the jihadis’ last big urban stronghold.
But the fall of Mosul also exposes ethnic and sectarian fractures that have plagued Iraq for more than a decade.
The victory risks triggering new violence between Arabs and Kurds over disputed territories or between Sunnis and Shi’ites over claims to power, egged on by outside powers that have shaped Iraq’s future since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni minority-rule and brought the Iran-backed Shi’ite majority to power.
For Iraq, stunned by the blitz on Mosul by Islamic State in 2014 and the collapse of its army, victory could thus turn out to be as big a problem as defeat. The federal model devised under the Anglo-American occupation and built on a power-sharing agreement between Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds collapsed into ethno-sectarian carnage spawned by the al Qaeda precursors of Islamic State.
In the three years since the jihadis swept across the border from Syria where they had regrouped in the chaos of the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, IS was the rallying point uniting a fractured Iraq.
But now that the group faces military defeat, the unity that held Iraq together is starting to come apart.
Read more on the challenges faced by post-ISIS Iraq here.