After eight months of grinding urban warfare, Iraqi government troops on Thursday captured the ruined mosque in Mosul from where Islamic State proclaimed its self-styled caliphate three years ago, the Iraqi military said, Reuters reports.
Iraqi authorities expect the long battle for Mosul to end in the coming days as the remaining Islamic State fighters are now bottled up in just a handful of neighborhoods of the Old City.
The seizure of the 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri Mosque is a huge symbolic victory for the Iraqi forces fighting to recapture Mosul, which had served as Islamic State’s de facto capital in Iraq.
“Their fictitious state has fallen,” an Iraqi military spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, told state TV.
The insurgents blew up the medieval mosque and its famed leaning minaret a week ago as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces started a push in its direction. Their black flag had been flying from al-Hadba (The Hunchback) minaret since June 2014.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi “issued instructions to bring the battle to its conclusion,” his office said.
The fall of Mosul would in effect mark the end of the Iraqi half of the IS 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 U.S.-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.