“Their fictitious state has fallen,” military spokesperson Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told state TV on Thursday – three years to the day since Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of the so-called caliphate from the same spot.
Isis blew up the 12th century al-Nuri mosque last week after it became apparent US-backed Iraqi forces had begun a push in its direction. Its black flag had flown from the al-Hadba (Hunchback) minaret since June 2014, when the extremists managed to capture one third of Iraq after sweeping across the border from Syria.
Lt Gen Abdul Wahab al-Saadi told the Associated Press elite special troops entered the compound and took control of the surrounding streets on Thursday afternoon after a dawn offensive.
The site will need to be cleared by explosives experts as Isis often rigs areas it has retreated from with booby traps.
While there are approximately 300 militants still fighting to the death in the Old City district, the Iraqi authorities expect the eight-month-long battle to end within the next few days. Isis now holds an area of the west side of the Tigris River less than 1km square.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has already “issued instructions to bring the battle to its conclusion”, his office said on Wednesday.
The victory has come at a cost: the fierce fighting and US-led bombing campaign have killed thousands of civilians and driven 850,000 in total from their homes. Huge swathes of the city have been reduced to rubble, and in the searing summer heat the stench of dead bodies is overpowering, soldiers on the front line say.
Operation Inherent Resolve to retake the city began in October 2016. While the struggle for Mosul – once a cosmopolitan city of 1.5 million people and the jewel in Isis's crown – has almost reached its end, the militants still cling on to pockets of northern Iraq near the border with Syria.
The complex coalition operation made up of the Iraqi army, elite counter terrorism units, Iranian-funded militias and Kurdish peshmerga has dovetailed with US-backed Kurdish forces' efforts across the border to drive Isis from its de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa.
The fall of both cities will mark the end of Isis as a land-holding force, although analysts expect the group to morph into a full-blown insurgency across the two countries, and for Isis to step up terror attacks around the world in future.
“It’s important to differentiate between Isis as a global ideology and its physical quasi-state project,” Dr Andreas Krieg of King's College London's Department of Defence Studies told The Independent.
“Isis is not the root cause of Iraq's problems, it's a symptom of it. And all the local grievances that allowed Isis to flourish in the first place – physical insecurity, disenfranchisement – are not going to go away. There are many in northern Iraq who are not going to cheer and support the Baghdad government now they've been liberated from one form of oppression. They are already bracing for the next one.”
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