‘Heroic’ Iraqi fight­ers now in con­trol of Mosul

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - SUSANNAH GE­ORGE AND SINAN SALAHEDDIN MOSUL, IRAQ —

Prime Min­is­ter Haider alAbadi con­grat­u­lated Iraqi troops Sun­day in the streets of Mosul for driv­ing Is­lamic State mil­i­tants out of most of the city. But airstrikes and sniper fire con­tin­ued amid the rev­elry, and the ex­trem­ists stub­bornly held small patches of ground west of the Ti­gris River.

Over the nearly nine-month cam­paign, Iraqi forces — backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coali­tion — re­duced the ISIL hold on Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city to less than a square kilo­me­tre of ter­ri­tory.

Still, al-Abadi and Iraqi com­man­ders stopped short Sun­day of declar­ing an out­right vic­tory against the ex­trem­ists, who have oc­cu­pied Mosul for three years. Los­ing Mosul would be a ma­jor de­feat for the Is­lamic State, which has suf­fered ma­jor set­backs in the past year.

“We are glad to see nor­mal life re­turn for the cit­i­zens,” al-Abadi said, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from his of­fice. “This is the re­sult of the sac­ri­fices of the (coun­try’s) heroic fight­ers.”

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.

A few kilo­me­tres away, spe­cial forces com­man­ders climbed over mounds of rub­ble on the edge of Mosul’s Old City to plant an Iraqi flag on the west­ern bank of the Ti­gris, mark­ing weeks of hard-fought gains in the heart of the con­gested dis­trict.

Sud­denly, two shots from an ISIL sniper rang out, send­ing the men scram­bling for cover. The flag was re­trieved and planted far­ther up­river be­hind a wall that pro­tected it from a clus­ter of ISIL-held build­ings nearby.

“We’ve been fight­ing this ter­ror­ist group for 3 ½ years now,” said Lt. Gen. Ab­dul Wahab al-Saadi of the spe­cial forces. “Now we are in Mosul, the east part was lib­er­ated, and there’s only a small part left in the west.”

Lt. Gen. Jas­sim Nizal of the army’s 9th Di­vi­sion said his forces achieved “vic­tory” in their sec­tor, af­ter a sim­i­lar an­nounce­ment a day ear­lier by the mil­i­ta­rized fed­eral po­lice.

Sol­diers danced atop tanks to pa­tri­otic mu­sic even as airstrikes sent up plumes of smoke nearby.

The ex­trem­ists still hold sev­eral smaller towns and vil­lages across Iraq and Syria.

FELIPE DANA, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Vic­to­ri­ous Iraqi Spe­cial Forces sol­diers cel­e­brate af­ter reach­ing the bank of the Ti­gris River.

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