After eight months of grinding urban warfare, Iraqi government troops on Thursday captured the ruined mosque at the heart of Islamic State’s de facto capital Mosul, and the prime minister declared the group’s self-styled caliphate at an end.
Iraqi authorities expect the long battle for Mosul to end in coming days as remaining Islamic State fighters are bottled up in just a handful of neighborhoods of the Old City.
For the Iraqi forces fighting to recapture Mosul, the seizure of the nearly 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri Mosque – from where Islamic State proclaimed the caliphate three years ago – is a huge symbolic victory, reports Reuters.
“The return of al-Nuri Mosque and al-Hadba minaret to the fold of the nation marks the end of the Daesh state of falsehood,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement, referring to the ultra-hardline Sunni group by an Arabic acronym.
“Their fictitious state has fallen,” an Iraqi military spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, told state TV.
The fall of Mosul would in effect mark the end of the Iraqi half of the IS caliphate, although the hardline group still controls territory west and south of the city.
Its stronghold in Syria, Raqqa, is also close to falling.
A U.S.-backed Kurdish-led coalition besieging the city on Thursday fully encircled it after closing the militants’ last way out from the south, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Islamic State fighters blew up Mosul’s medieval mosque and its famed leaning minaret a week ago as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces started a push in its direction. Their black flag had been flying from al-Hadba (The Hunchback) minaret since June 2014.
Much of the mosque and brickwork minaret was reduced to rubble, said a Reuters TV reporter who went to the site with the elite units that captured it.
Only the stump of the Hunchback remained, and a green dome of the mosque supported by a few pillars which resisted the blast, he said.
The mosque grounds were off limits as the insurgents are suspected to have planted booby traps.