Iraq’s Prime Minister and commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces arrived in Mosul, where he congratulated the soldiers on their victory over Islamic State after almost nine months of bloody battle.
Mosul, once the second largest city in Iraq, has been the principal stronghold of ISIS in the country, as well as the largest city under their control.
The battle for Mosul resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians, while it has been estimated that nearly one million people have been displaced.
“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 Iraqi people for the great victory,” his office said in a statement, as reported by Reuters.
Heavy urban fighting has reduced Mosul to ruins. ISIS militants offered stiff resistance in the narrow streets of the old city, where they made their last stand against Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition forces.
However, some parts of the city remain under militants’ control, and the Islamic State has vowed to ‘fight to the death’.
While the liberation of Mosul seems imminent, there are fears that ISIS might use civilians as human shields against Iraqi’s forces.
“The battle has reached the phase of chasing the insurgents in remaining blocks,” the Iraqi military media office said in a statement. “Some members of Daesh have surrendered.”
“Our units are still continuing to advance… Not much is left before our forces reach the [Tigris] river,” where ISIS still controls the riverside district of al Maydan, the Joint Operations Command said Saturday, according to AP.
ISIS linked Amaq news agency reported that ISIS fighters in Mosul are ready to fight to the death.
“The fighters of Islamic State are collectively pledging (to fight to the) death in Maydan.”
Iraqi troops, with the support of Shia and Kurdish militias and U.S.-lead coalition airstrikes, have liberated east Mosul in a six-months offensive, but the fight for Mosul’s Old City proved to be a significant challenge.
ISIS militants were reported to use civilians as human shields, and recruited own family members to battle against Iraqi’s forces.
“The women are fighting with their children right beside them,” Lt. Gen. Sami al-Aridi was quoted as saying by AP earlier this week. “It’s making us hesitant to use airstrikes, to advance. If it weren’t for this we could be finished in just a few hours.”
According to latest reports, provided by U.S. military officials, a total of 603 civilians death have been reported in the U.S.-led air campaign in Iraq, as well as Syria.
Human rights groups have criticized the U.S.-led coalition for ‘indiscriminate bombing’ of civilian population in Mosul. The U.S.-led coalition also admitted to have used white phosphorous in Mosul.
Photo: © Alaa Al-Faqir / Reuters