Iraqi government troops on Thursday captured the mosque in Mosul from where Daesh 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 Islamic State’s de facto capital in Iraq.
“Their fictitous state has fallen,” an Iraqi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, told state TV.
The insurgents blew up the medieval mosque and its famed leaning minaret a week ago as US-backed Iraqi forces started a push in its direction. Their black flag had been flying from Al-Hadba (The Hunchback) minaret, since June 2014.
Iraqi authorities expect the battle to end in the coming days as Islamic State has been bottled up in a handful of neighbourhoods of the Old City.
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi “issued instructions to bring the battle to its conclusion,” his office said on Wednesday.
The fall of Mosul would in effect mark the end of the Iraqi half of the Daesh 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, however. 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 the battle, mostly taking refuge in camps or with relatives and friends, according to aid groups.
Those trapped in the city suffered hunger and deprivation as well as death or injury, and many buildings have been ruined.