The brutal fighting for the Iraqi city of Mosul, once the “caliphate” for the Islamic State is almost at an end. Iraqi forces have broken thru the ISIS lines to reach the Tigris River and have symbolically planted the Iraqi flag there. But the battle is far from done.
Even while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, dressed in military uniform, appeared in Mosul to declare the city secure, much still needs to be done. There are a few more blocks of the city that will have to be cleared, and it is a dangerous and bloody business.
Iraqi and US officials expect for ISIS to carry out suicide attacks and terrorist incidents inside the city which has been razed to the ground in most areas. With the majority of the population displaced, finding ways to care for the people and restoring basic services will be no easy feat.
An on-screen headline on Iraqiya news on Sunday said Iraqi special forces have “raised the Iraqi flag on the Tigris riverbank in the Old City of Mosul”.
About 100 ISIL fighters had earlier been reported to be trapped in a sliver of the Old City along the Tigris.
Many of them threw themselves into the river as they faced imminent defeat on Sunday, according to Reuters news agency.
The agency also reported plumes of smoke over the Old City and decaying corpses of ISIL fighters lying on its streets. Scattered bursts of gunfire could be heard and several air strikes were carried out, it said.
The fall of Mosul would be the biggest defeat yet for ISIL three years after it seized the city in a lightning offensive.
With air support by the US-led coalition, Iraqi forces launched the battle for Mosul in October, retaking the eastern part of the city in January and starting the operation for its western part the next month.
The eight-month battle for Mosul has ruined parts of the city, killed thousands of civilians and displaced nearly one million people.
On Saturday, jubilant police forces were seen flashing V-for-victory signs in Mosul and posing for selfies in front of each other holding up ISIL’s black flag upside down.
Distraught women and children were seen clutching what few belongings they could carry. Hungry and haggard, they told AFP they had spent months being held as human shields by ISIL fighters.
As the Iraq forces makes their final push, approximately half of the population of the city is still displaced, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said.
Tens of thousands of people are likely to return to the city in the near future, placing pressure on the Iraqi government and the international community to begin rebuilding immediately.
“People from every ethnic, religious and socio-economic group in Iraq have suffered as a result of this conflict,” said Heidi Diedrich, the NRC’s country director.
“It is the responsibility of the international community now to help them rebuild their country and repair the divisions that helped to create the conflict in the first place.”
The UN predicts it will cost more than $1bn to repair basic infrastructure in Mosul.
The Iraqis have their symbolic and costly victory, routing the remnants of the Islamic State from the largest city they’ve held. But there are still many towns to be cleared and then there are the Islamic State fighters. Many residents in Mosul have been quoted as stating that the fighters faced with certain death have shaved their beards, jettisoned their military clothing, and blended in with the refugees…free to fight another day.
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Photo Courtesy DOD