Iraq declares final victory over ISIL
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Dec. 9 declared victory in a three-year war by Iraqi forces to expel the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadist group that at its height endangered Iraq’s very existence.
“Our forces are in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border and I therefore announce the end of the war against Daesh,” Abadi told a conference in Baghdad, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
“Our enemy wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won through our unity and our determination. We have triumphed in little time,” he said, hailing Iraq’s “heroic armed forces.”
As the authorities announced a public holiday on Dec. 10 “to celebrate the victory,” Abadi said in a speech at the defense ministry that Iraq’s next battle would be to defeat the scourge of corruption.
ISIL seized vast areas north and west of Baghdad in a lightning offensive in 2014.
With Iraq’s army and police retreating in disarray at the time, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual leader of the country’s majority Shiites, called for a general mobilization, leading to the formation of Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary units.
Iraq’s fightback was also launched with the backing of an air campaign waged by a U.S.-led coalition, recapturing town after town from the clutches of the jihadists in fierce urban warfare.
The U.S. State Department hailed the end of the jihadists’ “vile occupation” but cautioned that the fight was not over.
“The United States joins the Government of Iraq in stressing that Iraq’s liberation does not mean the fight against terrorism, and even against ISIS, in Iraq is over,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, using another name for ISIL.
The coalition, meanwhile, tweeted: “Congratulations to the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces on the liberation of all Daesh-held populated areas in Iraq.”
Iraq’s close ally Iran already declared victory over ISIL last month, as the jihadists clung to just a few remaining scraps of territory.
But Abadi said at the time he would not follow suit until the desert on the border with Syria had been cleared.
On the Syrian side of the border, ISIL is under massive pressure too.
On Dec. 7, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its mission in support of the Syrian government to oust ISIL had been “accomplished” and the country was “completely liberated.”
Despite the victory announcements, experts have warned that ISIL retains the capacity as an insurgent group to carry out high-casualty bomb attacks using sleeper cells.