Extremist group driven from all Iraqi territory, says prime minister, but surviving militants could launch guerrilla war
Iraq has formally declared its fight against Islamic State over after three years of heavy combat, although surviving militants are widely expected to launch a guerrilla war.
Isis has been driven from all the territory it once held inside Iraq, the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, announced in Baghdad on Saturday.
At the peak of its military power, the extremist group controlled nearly a third of the country, including Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
The full length of the border between Iraq and Syria, which Isis fighters traversed freely for years, is also now held by Iraqi forces, a top military commander said. “All Iraqi lands are liberated from terrorist Daesh [Isis] gangs and our forces completely control the international Iraqi-Syrian border,” Lt Gen Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah said.
The slow and extremely bloody battle against Isis began in the summer of 2014, soon after a few thousand of the group’s fighters stunned Iraq and the world by seizing Mosul. The Iraqi military fled the city, leaving their weapons and equipment to Isis, and the city’s riches to bolster its coffers. For three years it was a financial and political hub for the extremists’ self-declared caliphate.
Iraqi forces pushed back against the group city by city, finally retaking Mosul this summer. Abadi had declared victory over Isis then, but battles continued in a string of smaller towns and through swaths of surrounding desert.
Iraq must also now reckon with the daunting task of reconstruction in areas once held by Isis. The fighting caused terrible physical damage to towns and infrastructure, and particularly around Mosul, Isis rule ripped apart communities that had been famous for their diversity.
About 3 million Iraqis are still displaced, and the distrust sown between former neighbours and friends will be hard to overcome.