Iraqi PM declares Mosul victory over IS
On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the northern city of Mosul to celebrate the victory in a nine-month battle against the self-styled Islamic State (IS) militant group.
"The commander-in-chief of the armed forces Haider al-Abadi arrived in the liberated city of Mosul and congratulated the heroic fighters and the Iraqi people for the great victory," a statement from the prime minister's office read.
Read more: Iraqis wonder what will follow Islamic State in Mosul
"Forces from the Counter Terrorism Service raised the Iraqi flag on the Tigris river bank in the Old City of Mosul," Iraqiya News reported.
Some reports claim that heavy fighting was ongoing in parts of Mosul's western neighborhood near the Tigris River.
The EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and its aid commissioner Christos Stylianides said in a joint statement on Sunday: "The recovery of Mosul from the hands of (IS) marks a decisive step in the campaign to eliminate terrorist control in parts of Iraq and to free its people."
"It is now essential that a process of return and the re-establishment of trust between communities begins, and that all Iraqis are able to start building a shared future," they said.
In a Twitter message, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed similar sentiments: "Homage from France to all those, with our troops, who contributed to this victory," Macron tweeted just hours after PM Abadi declared victory in IS' last urban stronghold.
Not without costs
On Sunday, the decaying corpses of IS fighters lay in the streets. Forces launched airstrikes, and gunfire rang out. Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told state television that troops had killed 30 militants who attempted to get away by swimming across the Tigris.
Of course, government forces have more than once announced imminent victory since the fight for Mosul began in earnest in November. Retaking Mosul's university was one major milestone back in January, as was reaching the Tigris for the first time - also in January.
For all the incremental successes, eight months of fighting have taken their toll on Iraq's security forces. The government does not reveal casualty figures, but a funding request from the US Department of Defense showed that the Counter Terrorism Service, which has spearheaded the fight in Mosul, had suffered 40 percent losses.
The United States leads a coalition that has backed the campaign against IS in Mosul by conducting airstrikes against the group and assisting troops on the ground. The Department of Defense has requested $1.269 billion (1.1 billion euros) in US budget funds for 2018 to continue supporting Iraqi forces.
Losing Mosul - by far the largest city to fall under IS control - would reduce the group's dominion in Iraq to mainly rural areas west and south of the city, where the militants still hold tens of thousands of people hostage. From the pulpit of Mosul's al-Nuri mosque almost exactly three years ago, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had proclaimed a caliphate that would span Syria and Iraq. Last week, his troops demolished the mosque as they fled.
shs/jm (Reuters, AP)