Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday it would take three months to rout Islamic State, as U.S.-backed forces battle to dislodge the militants from their city stronghold of Mosul.
Abadi previously said the city would be retaken by the end of this year but commanders say the operation has been slowed by the need to protect civilians who have mostly stayed in their homes rather than fleeing as was expected, reports Reuters.
Asked to respond to comments by a commander of the U.S.-led coalition that it would take as long as two years to eliminate Islamic State and its cells in Iraq and Syria, Abadi said:
More than two months into the operation, elite Iraqi soldiers have retaken a quarter of Mosul, but entered a planned “operational refit” this month.
A U.S. battlefield commander told Reuters on Monday Iraqi forces would resume their offensive in the coming days, in a new phase of the operation that will see American troops deployed closer to the front line inside the city.
Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State anywhere across the once vast territory it controlled in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, has been held by the group since its fighters drove the U.S.-trained army out in June 2014.
Besides Mosul, Islamic State still controls the towns of Tel Afar and Qaim as well as Hawija and the surrounding area.
The fall of Mosul would probably end Islamic State’s ambition for a self-styled caliphate, but the fighters could still mount a more traditional insurgency in Iraq, and plot or inspire attacks on the West.