MOSUL (Iraq) • Iraqi government troops yesterday captured the ruined mosque in Mosul from where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) proclaimed its self-styled caliphate three years ago, the Iraqi military said.
Seizing the 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri Mosque hands a symbolic victory to the Iraqi forces, who have been battling for more than eight months to recapture Mosul, the northern city that served as ISIS' de facto capital in Iraq.
"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.
The Iraqi authorities expect the battle for Mosul to end in the coming days as the remaining ISIS fighters are now bottled up in just a handful of neighbourhoods in the Old City. Counter-terrorism service units are now in control of the mosque area and the al-Hadba and Sirjkhana neighbourhoods and they are still advancing, a military statement said.
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The insurgents blew up the mediaeval mosque and its famed leaning minaret a week ago as United States-backed Iraqi forces started a push in its direction. Their black flag had been flying from al-Hadba (The Hunchback) minaret since June 2014.
The fall of Mosul would in effect mark the end of the Iraqi half of the ISIS caliphate even though the hardline group would still control territory west and south of the city.
Its capital in Syria, Raqqa, is also besieged by a US-backed Kurdish-led coalition.
The cost of the battle has been enormous. In addition to military casualties, thousands of civilians are estimated to have been killed. About 900,000 people, nearly half the pre-war population of the northern city, have fled, mostly taking refuge in camps or with relatives and friends, aid groups said.
Those trapped in the city suffered hunger and deprivation as well as death or injury.