Iraq declared the Islamic State group’s “caliphate” was coming to an end after it recaptured Mosul’s iconic mosque Thursday, three years to the day after it was blown up by jihadis. “We are seeing the end of the fake Daesh state. The liberation of Mosul proves that,” Haider al-Abadi said. But even as the Iraqi leader issued his statement, heavy clashes continued to unfold in Mosul — filling field hospitals and forcing hundreds to flee. The advances come as Iraqi troops are pushing deeper into the Old City, a densely populated neighborhood west of the Tigris River where ISIS fighters are making their last stand. U.S.-led coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told reporters at the Pentagon that victory in Mosul was “imminent” and would likely occur “in days rather than weeks.”
The destroyed al-Nuri mosque retaken by Iraqi special forces Thursday is where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance, in July 2014, declaring a self-styled Islamic “caliphate” encompassing territories then-held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Baghdadi’s fate and whereabouts remain unknown, but he has been rumored to be killed in an airstrike. The jihadis, who blamed a U.S. airstrike for the destruction, blew up the mosque to deprive Iraqi forces of recapturing the historic site intact as they put up increasingly desperate resistance in one of their last strongholds. While Iraqi forces are moving closer to victory in Mosul, the city’s recapture would not mark the end of the war against ISIS, which still holds significant territory elsewhere in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. backed forces have had periods of swift gains during the Mosul operation, but combat inside the city has largely been grueling and deadly for both security forces and civilians.