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IS on the run as ‘caliphate’ crumbles in Iraq

Sense of an ending: Iraqi soldiers keep a watch on IS positions near the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul on Wednesday.

Sense of an ending: Iraqi soldiers keep a watch on IS positions near the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul on Wednesday.  

The liberation of Mosul marks the end of the Iraqi half of Islamic State, focus now shifts to Raqqa, the group’s capital in Syria

The liberation of Mosul would in effect mark the end of the Iraqi half of the Islamic State 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.

“Their fictitious state has fallen,” an Iraqi military spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, told state TV.

The cost of the battle for Mosul has been enormous, however. In addition to military casualties, thousands of civilians are estimated to have been killed. About 900,000 people, nearly half the pre-war population of the northern city, have fled the battle, mostly taking refuge in camps or with relatives and friends, according to aid groups.

Those trapped in the city suffered hunger and deprivation as well as death or injury, and many buildings have been ruined.

Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) troops captured the historic al-Nuri Mosque’s ground in a “lightning operation” on Thursday, a commander of the U.S.-trained elite units told state TV.

Children freed

Civilians living nearby were evacuated in the past days through corridors, he added. CTS units are now in control of the mosque area and the al-Hadba and Sirjkhana neighbourhoods and they are still advancing, a military statement said. Other government units, from the Army and police, were closing in from other directions.

An elite Interior Ministry unit said it freed about 20 children believed to belong to Yazidi and other minorities persecuted by the insurgents in a quarter north of the Old City.

A U.S.-led international coalition is providing air and ground support to the Iraqi forces fighting through the Old City’s maze of narrow alleyways. But the advance remains an arduous task as the insurgents are dug in the middle of civilians, using mortar fire, snipers, booby traps and suicide bombers to defend their last redoubt.

The military estimated up to 350 militants were still in the Old City last week but many have been killed since.

They are besieged in one sq km making up less than 40% of the Old City and less than 1% of the total area of Mosul, the largest urban centre over which they held sway in both Iraq and Syria.

Those residents who have escaped the Old City say many of the civilians trapped behind IS lines — put last week at 50,000 by the Iraqi military — are in a desperate situation with little food, water or medicines. “Boys and girls who have managed to escape show signs of moderate malnutrition and carry psychosocial scars,” the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF said in a statement. Thousands of children remain at risk in Mosul, it said.

Baghdadi proclaimed himself “caliph,” or ruler of all Muslims, from the Grand al-Nuri Mosque’s pulpit on July 4, 2014, after the insurgents overran vast swathes of Iraq and Syria. His speech from the mosque was the first time he revealed himself to the world and the footage broadcast then is to this day the only video recording of him as “caliph”.

The Islamic State last week broadcast a video showing much of the mosque and brickwork minaret reduced to rubble. Only the stump of the Hunchback remained, and a dome of the mosque supported by a few pillars which resisted the blast. The mosque was named after Nuruddin al-Zanki, a noble who fought the early Crusaders from a fiefdom that covered territory in modern-day Turkey, Syria and Iraq. It was built in 1172-73, shortly before his death, and housed an Islamic school.

The Old City’s stone buildings date mostly from the medieval period. They include market stalls, a few mosques and churches, and small houses built and rebuilt on top of each other over the ages.

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Printable version | Feb 29, 2020 12:43:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/is-on-the-run-as-caliphate-crumbles-in-iraq/article19180531.ece

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