Islamic State completely ‘evicted’ from Iraq, Iraqi PM says
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Saturday that Iraqi forces had driven the last remnants of Islamic State from the country, three years after the militant group captured about a third of Iraq’s territory.
The announcement comes two days after the Russian military announced the defeat of the militants in neighbouring Syria, where Moscow is backing Syrian government forces.
The Iraqi forces recaptured the last areas still under IS control along the border with Syria, state television quoted Abadi as telling an Arab media conference in Baghdad.
Several squadrons of Iraqi helicopters flew over Baghdad carrying Iraqi flags at noon, in an apparent rehearsal for a victory parade that Iraq is planning to hold in the coming days.
“Commander-in-Chief @HaiderAlAbadi announces that Iraq’s armed forces have secured the western desert & the entire Iraq Syria border, says this marks the end of the war against Daesh terrorists who have been completely defeated and evicted from Iraq,” the federal government’s official account tweeted.
In a separate tweet later, Abadi said: “Our heroic armed forces have now secured the entire length of the Iraq-Syria border. We defeated Daesh through our unity and sacrifice for the nation. Long live Iraq and its people.”
Daesh is an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
The U.S.-led coalition that has been supporting the Iraqi forces against Islamic State welcomed the news in a tweet.
“The Coalition congratulate the people of Iraq on their significant victory against #Daesh. We stand by them as they set the conditions for a secure and prosperous #futureiraq,” said the tweet.
Mosul, the group’s de facto capital in Iraq, fell in July after a gruelling nine-month campaign backed by a U.S.-led coalition that saw much of the northern Iraqi city destroyed.
Islamic State’s Syrian capital Raqqa also fell to a U.S.-backed Kurdish-led coalition in September.
The forces fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria now expect a new phase of guerrilla warfare, a tactic the militants have already shown themselves capable of.
The war has had a devastating impact on the areas previously controlled by the militants. About 3.2 million people remain displaced, a U.N. statement said on Saturday.
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who in 2014 declared in Mosul the founding of a new Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria, released an audio recording on Sept. 28 that indicated he was alive, after several reports he had been killed. He urged his followers to keep up the fight despite setbacks.
Baghdadi is believed to be hiding in the stretch of desert in the border area.
His followers imposed a reign of terror on the populations they controlled, alienating even many of those Sunni Muslims who had supported the group as allies against the heavy-handed rule of the Shi‘ite majority-led government of the time.
The militants took thousands of women from the Yazidi minority, which lives in a mountain west of Mosul, as sex slaves and killed the men.
Driven from its two de facto capitals, Islamic State was progressively squeezed this year into an ever-shrinking pocket of desert, straddling the frontier between the two countries, by enemies that include regional states and global powers.
In Iraq, the group confronted mainly U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, and Iranian-trained Shi‘ite paramilitaries known as Popular Mobilisation.
In his speech to the Arab media conference, Abadi said “the victories were achieved thanks to our unity”, a reference to the contribution of different communities, including Sunni tribal fighters.
However, Iraq faces a fresh internal conflict after it retaliated economically and militarily against the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for holding a referendum on Kurdish independence despite Baghdad’s opposition.