Iraqi leader congratulates soldiers in Mosul; fight goes on

Sunday, July 9, 2017|4 p.m.

MOSUL, Iraq– Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi praised Iraqi troops Sunday in the streets of Mosul for owning Islamic State militants from most of the city. However airstrikes and sniper fire continued in the middle of the celebration, and the extremists stubbornly held small spots of ground west of the Tigris River.

Over the almost nine-month campaign, Iraqi forces– backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led union– lowered the IS hang on Iraq’s second-largest city to less than a square kilometer (less than a mile) of territory.

Still, al-Abadi and Iraqi leaders stopped brief Sunday of stating an outright success against the extremists, who have actually inhabited Mosul for 3 years. Losing Mosul would be a major defeat for the Islamic State, which has actually suffered significant problems in the past year.

“We are happy to see normal life return for the people,” al-Abadi stated, inning accordance with a declaration from his workplace. “This is the outcome of the sacrifices of the (country’s) brave fighters.”

Dressed in a black military uniform, the prime minister met field commanders, kissed babies and toured a reopened market in western Mosul. At one point, he briefly draped an Iraqi flag on his shoulders.

A few kilometers away, special forces commanders climbed up over mounds of rubble on the edge of Mosul’s Old City to plant an Iraqi flag on the western bank of the Tigris, marking weeks of hard-fought gains in the heart of the busy district.

Suddenly, two shots from an IS sniper rang out, sending the males scrambling for cover. The flag was recovered and planted farther upriver behind a wall that safeguarded it from a cluster of IS-held buildings nearby.

“We’ve been fighting this terrorist group for 3 1/2 years now,” stated Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi of the unique forces. “Now we remain in Mosul, the east part was freed, and there’s only a little part left in the west.”

Al-Saadi emphasized that despite the flag-raising, the operation to clear Mosul of the militants was ongoing. Behind him, a group of soldiers and local reporters recording the scene sang a traditional Iraqi success ballad.

Lt. Gen. Jassim Nizal of the army’s 9th Department stated his forces attained “triumph” in their sector, after a similar statement a day previously by the militarized Federal Police.

Soldiers danced atop tanks to patriotic music even as airstrikes sent out up plumes of smoke nearby.

However the background to the minutes of festivity was a grinding conflict and widespread devastation.

Inside the Old City– the home of buildings that go back centuries– the course carved by Iraqi forces leveled houses, shattered invaluable architecture and cluttered the narrow alleys with corpses decomposing in the summer heat.

Less than an hour after the flag-raising, special forces Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Timimi was informed that 2 of his men were shot by an IS sniper, and one of them had actually died.

“He was one of our best,” al-Timimi said. “He just got wed six months ago.”

Blocks from the army celebrations, a line of weary civilians walked out of the Old City, past the shells of damaged house blocks lining roadways cratered by airstrikes.

Heba Walid held her sister-in-law’s baby, which was born into war. The moms and dads of the 6-month-old, along with 15 other member of the family, were eliminated last month when an airstrike struck their home. When Walid lacked formula, she fed the baby a paste of crushed biscuits mixed with water.

Inside IS-held area, the extremists are utilizing human shields, suicide bombers and snipers in a fight to the death that has slowed current Iraqi gains to a crawl.

Islamic State militants seized Mosul in the summertime of 2014 when they swept across northern and main Iraq. That summertime, the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appeared at Mosul’s al-Nuri Mosque and stated a caliphate on area it took in Iraq and Syria.

Iraq introduced the operation to retake Mosul in October. The fierce fight has killed thousands and displaced more than 897,000 people.

Last month, as Iraqi troops closed in on the Old City, the militants damaged the al-Nuri Mosque and its well-known leaning minaret to reject the forces a symbolic triumph.

U.S.-backed Syrian forces have encircled and pushed into the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa in surrounding Syria after a month of fighting, although a long battle lies ahead.

More than 2,000 militants are holed up with their households and tens of thousands of civilians in Raqqa’s center, the city’s most largely inhabited districts.

The extremists still hold numerous smaller towns and towns across Iraq and Syria.

Salaheddin reported from Baghdad. Associated Press writer Salar Salim in Mosul contributed.

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