The Iraqi government has declared victory in their battle against ISIS in the strategic northern city following a bloody 8 months battle. The terror group has held the city for the past three years and has been pounded incessantly by United Sstates coalition-led aircraft. Much of city has been leveled in the battle to retake the city, which was the second most important stronghold for the terror group. Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi today announced ‘victory’ over ISIS in the city of Mosul. According to a statement released by the PM ‘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.’

ISIS still controls territory in Iraq and is expected to revert to more conventional insurgent tactics such as bombings as its self-proclaimed caliphate falls apart. The battle for Mosul, by far the largest city to fall under the militants’ control, has left large areas in ruins, killed thousands of civilians and displaced nearly 1 million people. Airstrikes and exchanges of gunfire could still be heard in narrow streets of Mosul’s Old City, where the group has staged its last stand against Iraqi forces backed by a US led international coalition. Abadi met commanders in west Mosul who led the battle, but he has yet to issue a formal declaration that entire city has been retaken for the group which is also known as ISIS. 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. He tweeted ‘Mosul liberated from ISIS: France pays homage to all those, who alongside our troops, contributed to this victory.’

Iraq still faces uncertainty and long-term stability will be possible only if government contains ethnic and sectarian tensions which have dogged the country since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The fall of Mosul exposes fractures between Arabs and Kurds over disputed territories and between Sunnis and Shia majority. The group vowed to ‘fight to the death’ in Mosul, but Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said to 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 resorted to sending women suicide bombers among thousands of civilians who are emerging from the battlefield wounded, malnourished and fearful. The struggle 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 United States Department of Defense said the elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), which has spearheaded the fight in Mosul, had suffered 40% losses. The Department of Defense has requested $1’269 billion in United States budget funds for 2018 to continue supporting Iraqi forces, which collapsed in the face of the few hundred militants who overran Mosul in 2014. Backed by coalition airstrikes, an array of Iraqi forces gradually clawed back territory from ISIS until reaching Mosul, the group’s de facto capital in Iraq, in last October. It’s almost exactly 3 years since the ultra-hardline group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a ‘caliphate’ spanning Syria and Iraq from pulpit of Mosul’s medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque. The United Nations predicts it will cost more than $1 billion to repair basic infrastructure in Mosul. In some of 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, U.N. Around 15 women and children huddle on a shaded pavement out of scorching sun at the edge of the Old City, as automatic weapons fire and mortar rounds resound inside. Iraqi forces fighting ISIS have brought them from Al-Maidan area inside the city’s historic centre, where jihadists are making a last stand ahead of an imminently expected defeat. A young mother about 25 years old crouches silently against a wall, dressed in a black robe and light blue scarf. She doubles up on the pavement, begging the nearest soldier to listen to her distress. Only one earlier, she lost her 7 years old son in a bombardment, just as she and her family prepared to leave the Old City after months of hiding from jihadists. ‘There was nothing I could do,’ she tells, her face distorted with grief as her eldest daughter tries to wipe away her tears. ‘Don’t cry, Mummy,’ tells the 10 years old, whose burgundy dress is drenched in her little brother’s blood. Fatima, a woman in her 50s, bursts into tears recounting her and her family’s ordeal over the past 4 months. They hid ‘almost without food or water’ in a basement watched by the jihadists, she tells, praying not to be hit in the fighting.

They emerged when their street seemed to have been retaken by Iraqi forces, seeing the sky for the first time in weeks as they hurried out of area towards freedom, but a sniper hit Fatima’s brother as they fled, and she has had no news of him since he was taken away in an ambulance. Beside her eyes lifted towards the sky and desperately chanting a man’s name. Liqaa was forced to leave her brother’s body behind after he too was shot down by a jihadist sniper. Iraqi forces are fighting the last ISIS fighters inside Mosul, on verge of retaking the city after 3 years of jihadist rule. Around 250 displaced people arrive from the Old City on Saturday alone, an employee of a local non-governmental organisation tells, asking to remain anonymous. ‘A quarter are wounded, mostly by mortar rounds or sniper fire from jihadists targeting fleeing civilians’ the employee tells. Among the women, some watch out for their men, several of whom are being screened by Iraqi fighters tasked with making sure no jihadist escapes among the fleeing civilians, but others, already widows, no longer have anyone to wait for. Soldiers and first aid workers hand out biscuits, water and orange juice to children, who often arrive dehydrated. On the pavement, a tiny girl of around 3 years old, brown hair tousled and wearing a turquoise dress, stands alone, clutching a half empty plastic water bottle. ‘Whose child is this?’ shouts a soldier, but around her, the women are too distraught to reply. Among the women who have fled their homes, those without relatives to stay with will be directed towards one of the camps for the displaced around city. Around 915’000 residents have run from their homes since the start of the battle for Mosul in October, the United Nations told two days before, including 700’000 who have yet to return. Not far off, Samira, a mother in her 20s, holds close her two daughters, terrified and covered in dirt. She cradles her last born, a motionless baby with a grey complexion. ISIS ‘would beat us as soon as we tried to leave. And outside, there was bombardment. ‘It was terrifying’ Samira said. Her infant suddenly starts crying, much to the relief of onlooking aid workers.

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