Iraq's prime minister Haider al-Abadi visited Mosul on Sunday, while praising his forces for their majestic "victory" over the Islamic State (IS).
"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 astatement.
The announcement comes after a gruelling nearly nine-month battle to retake the northern city from the jihadists after three years under their rule. A photo on Abadi's official Twitter account showed himdressed in a black military uniform and cap as he arrived in Mosul to announce the recapture of the city.
The fighting did not seem to be completely over yet, withgunfire still audible in Mosul and air strikes hitting the city around the time the premier's office released the statement. The declared victory in Mosul marks an epic milestone forthe Iraqi security forces, who had crumbled in the face of an IS onslaught across Iraq in 2014.
PM Al-Abadi meets with ISF commanders and forces who led the Mosul liberation campaign pic.twitter.com/qLILtkIWch— Haider Al-Abadi (@HaiderAlAbadi) July 9, 2017
IS swept across much of Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland in alightning offensive that year, proclaiming a self-styled"caliphate" straddling Iraq and neighbouring Syria. But the jihadist group, which is facing twin offensives backed by a US-led coalition in both countries, has since lost large parts of the territory it once controlled.
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 Iraqi forces launched their campaign to recapture Mosul in October, seizing its eastern side in January and launching the battle for its western part in February. But the fight grew tougher when Iraqi forces entered the densely populated Old City on the western bank of the TigrisRiver that divides the city.
In recent days, security forces have killed jihadists trying to escape their dwindling foothold in Mosul, as Iraqi units fought to retake the last two IS-held areas near the Tigris.
Earlier on Sunday, Iraq's Joint Operations Command had said it killed "30 terrorists" trying to escape across the river. Even in the final days of the battle, thousands ofcivilians remained trapped inside the Old City and those whofled arrived grief-stricken after losing relatives in jihadist sniper fire and bombardments.
Around 915,000 residents have fled Mosul since the startof the battle for the city in October, the United Nations saidthis week. Iraqi forces are backed by air strikes and advisers ofthe US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria since 2014. Abadi declared on Twitter late in June that "we are seeing the end of the fake (IS) state".
The recapture of Mosul will not however mark the end of the threat posed by IS, which holds territory elsewhere inIraq and is able to carry out frequent bombings ingovernment-held areas. In Syria, a US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance is fighting to oust the jihadist group from the northern city of Raqa after penetrating its heavily fortified historic centre.
With PTI inputs