Iraq de­clares Mo­sul fight fin­ished

ISIS routed; death, ruin left in wake

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Su­san­nah Ge­orge of The As­so­ci­ated Press; and by Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

MO­SUL, Iraq — Iraq on Mon­day de­clared “to­tal vic­tory” over the Is­lamic State in Mo­sul, re­tak­ing full con­trol of the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest city three years af­ter it was seized by ex­trem­ists bent on build­ing a global caliphate.

“This great feast day crowned the vic­to­ries of the fight­ers and the Iraqis for the past three years,” said Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi, flanked by his se­nior mil­i­tary lead­er­ship at a small base in western Mo­sul on the edge of the Old City area. Iraqi forces had backed the last pock­ets of Is­lamic State mil­i­tants against the banks of the Ti­gris River.

“From the heart of the lib­er­ated city of Mo­sul with the sac­ri­fices of Iraqis from all the prov­inces, we an­nounce the ma­jor vic­tory for all Iraq and Iraqis,” al-Abadi said.

Al-Abadi al­luded to the

bru­tal­ity of the bat­tle for Mo­sul — Iraq’s long­est yet in the fight against the Is­lamic State — say­ing the tri­umph had been achieved “by the blood of our mar­tyrs.”

Mo­sul has be­come the city where the Is­lamic State’s ter­ri­to­rial goals have crum­bled. Al­though the group is likely to hang on to the core of its pro­claimed caliphate for months yet, the mil­i­tary tide ap­pears to be turn­ing in fa­vor of a U.S.-led coali­tion of forces fight­ing the group in Iraq and Syria.

The bat­tle to re­cap­ture Mo­sul was the dead­li­est and most dif­fi­cult in the on­go­ing co­or­di­nated cam­paign against the ex­trem­ist group. Be­fore the later stages of the fight, Iraq’s elite coun­tert­er­ror­ism force had suf­fered a 40 per­cent ca­su­alty rate, ac­cord­ing to a May re­port from the of­fice of the U.S. de­fense sec­re­tary. Iraq’s army, fed­eral po­lice and gov­ern­ment-sanc­tioned mili­tia forces also suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant losses.

The nearly nine- month cam­paign, which was backed by airstrikes from the U.S.led coali­tion, left thou­sands dead, en­tire neigh­bor­hoods in ru­ins and nearly 900,000 dis­placed from their homes.

Western dis­tricts have been pum­meled by coali­tion airstrikes, Is­lamic State sui­cide bombs, and shelling. The ar­eas most re­cently re­taken re­sem­ble a gray sea of rub­ble.

Shortly af­ter al-Abadi’s speech, the coali­tion con­grat­u­lated him on the vic­tory but noted that parts of the Old City still “must be back-cleared of ex­plo­sive de­vices and pos­si­ble ISIS fight­ers in hid­ing.” ISIS is an acro­nym for the Is­lamic State.

Al-Abadi be­gan his vic­tory tour of the city on Sun­day, con­grat­u­lat­ing com­man­ders as the coun­tert­er­ror­ism troops cleared the fi­nal pock­ets of Is­lamic State re­sis­tance. As he spoke Sun­day night, it ap­peared that fight­ing was con­tin­u­ing be­tween Iraq’s army and the mil­i­tants in the fi­nal sliver of con­tested ter­ri­tory.

Ear­lier in the day, airstrikes pounded the last Is­lamic State- held ter­ri­tory on the western edge of the Ti­gris, Humvees rushed the wounded to field hos­pi­tals, and sol­diers hur­riedly filled bags with hand grenades to ferry to the front.

Iraqi troops slowly pushed through the nar­row al­ley­ways of the Old City dur­ing the past week, punch­ing holes through walls and de­mol­ish­ing houses to carve out sup­ply routes and fight­ing po­si­tions in a dis­trict where many of the build­ings date back cen­turies.

For days, the re­main­ing few hun­dred mil­i­tants held an area mea­sur­ing less than a mile, and Iraqi com­man­ders de­scribed vic­tory as im­mi­nent.

The drawn-out endgame in Iraq’s fight for Mo­sul high­lighted the re­silience of the ex­trem­ists and the con­tin­ued re­liance of Iraqi forces on air sup­port to re­take ter­ri­tory.

Iraqi com­man­ders said gains slowed to a crawl in re­cent days as Is­lamic State fight­ers used their fam­i­lies — in­clud­ing women and chil­dren — as hu­man shields. As the bat­tle space con­stricted, the coali­tion be­gan ap­prov­ing airstrikes, drop­ping bombs of 200 pounds or more on Is­lamic State tar­gets within 50 yards of friendly forces.

Plumes of smoke Mon­day grew larger than the strip of ter­ri­tory un­der Is­lamic State con­trol.

As the Iraqi army cel­e­brated im­mi­nent vic­tory on Sun­day, Muham­mad Ab­dul Ab­bas, a 20- year- old sol­dier, said he had lost 15 close friends fight­ing for Mo­sul.

“Hon­estly, all this death and all this destruc­tion, I don’t be­lieve it was worth it,” he said.

Re­ports of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties also rose as Iraqi forces punched into Mo­sul’s western half in Fe­bru­ary. Res­i­dents flee­ing the fight­ing re­ported that en­tire fam­i­lies shel­ter­ing in the base­ments of their homes were killed by airstrikes tar­get­ing small teams of Is­lamic State fight­ers.

Thou­sands of civil­ians were es­ti­mated to have been killed in the fight for Mo­sul, ac­cord­ing to Nin­eveh’s pro­vin­cial coun­cil. That did not in­clude those still be­lieved to be buried un­der col­lapsed

build­ings.

More than 897,000 peo­ple were dis­placed, and the United Na­tions said there was no end in sight to the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in Iraq de­spite the con­clu­sion of the fight­ing.

The U.N. said thou­sands of Mo­sul res­i­dents prob­a­bly won’t be able to re­turn to the city be­cause of “ex­ten­sive dam­age caused dur­ing the con­flict.”

The in­fra­struc­ture in western Mo­sul, where the fight­ing was fiercest, has been dec­i­mated. Iraq’s civil de­fense res­cue teams — a branch of the In­te­rior Min­istry — said about 65 per­cent of the build­ings in the Old City were se­verely dam­aged or de­stroyed. In western neigh­bor­hoods like Zan­jili, the destruc­tion was es­ti­mated to con­sti­tute 70 per­cent of all houses, build­ings and in­fra­struc­ture.

Mo­sul fell to Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in a mat­ter of days in June 2014, start­ing a po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity cri­sis not seen in the coun­try since the 2003 top­pling of Iraqi leader Sad­dam Hus­sein.

The ter­ri­to­rial gains by the ex­trem­ists led to the ouster of Iraq’s top lead­ers, dra­mat­i­cally shifted the bal­ance of power among its se­cu­rity forces, em­pow­ered Ira­nian-backed fight­ers who are now sanc­tioned by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, and drew U. S. ground troops back onto Iraqi soil for the first time since 2011.

The road to re­take Mo­sul has taken the gov­ern­ment, its se­cu­rity forces and the coali­tion more than three years of train­ing troops to re­place the tens of thou­sands of Iraqi troops who fled in the face of the 2014 Is­lamic State ad­vance.

That sum­mer, Is­lamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi ap­peared at Mo­sul’s al-Nuri Mosque and de­clared a caliphate on ter­ri­tory it seized in Iraq and Syria.

Last month, as Iraqi troops closed in on the Old City, the mil­i­tants de­stroyed the al-Nuri Mosque and its fa­mous lean­ing minaret to deny the forces a sym­bolic tri­umph.

AP/KARIM KADIM

Iraqis cel­e­brate while hold­ing na­tional flags in Tahrir square Mon­day in Bagh­dad.

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