U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have delivered a deathblow to ISIS’s claim to a caliphate, the Islamic empire they claimed followed in the footsteps of Islam’s founder.
It took eight months of block-by-block, building-by-building fighting, but on Thursday, Iraqi forces reclaimed the medieval mosque where ISIS proclaimed its caliphate almost exactly three years ago.
Iraqi authorities expect ISIS to be expunged from the city in the coming days, ending the battle for Mosul that began in October 2016.
Around 350 of the terrorist group’s fighters remain in a handful of neighborhoods of the Old City.
Reclaiming the nearly 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri Mosque is a huge symbolic victory for those fighting to free Mosul.
“The return of al-Nuri Mosque and al-Hadba minaret to the fold of the nation marks the end of the Daesh state of falsehood,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement, referring to the terrorist group by an Arabic acronym.
“Their fictitious state has fallen,” an Iraqi military spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, told state TV.
In reclaiming Mosul from ISIS, Iraqi forces will close out a dark chapter of the city’s history. The city was one of ISIS’s two capitals, the other being Raqqa in Syria.
That city is also being reclaimed.
A U.S.-backed Kurdish-led coalition began the final phase of a battle for the city at the beginning of June. They have now fully encircled it after closing the militants’ last way out from the south, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
In Mosul, reclaiming the al-Nuri Mosque came one week after ISIS fighters blew it up and destroyed its famed leaning minaret. The blast came as U.S.-backed Iraqi forces started a push in its direction.
ISIS has made a point of destroying much of the region’s rich history and culture, smashing ancient statues and destroying centuries-old works of art as a form of cultural cleansing. The reason for the destruction of the mosque is unclear, though it may have been to keep Iraqi forces from flying an Iraqi flag, further symbolizing the defeat of the group.
Much of the mosque and brick minaret have been reduced to rubble, though a green dome of the mosque and a few pillars that resisted the blast remain.
There are fears that the grounds of the mosque have been booby trapped. They will be checked and cleared in the coming days.