By Agence France-Presse
Iraq will declare victory over the Islamic State group in Mosul during the “next few days,” a senior commander said Friday, as the jihadists fell back in neighboring Syria.
IS, which declared a cross-border “caliphate” encompassing swathes of Iraq and Syria three years ago, is now facing twin offensives in Mosul and Raqa, its two most emblematic strongholds.
But while the loss of the two cities would be a major blow to IS, it would not mark the end of the threat posed by the group, which is likely to return to insurgent-style attacks that were its hallmark in years past.
“In the next few days, we will announce the final victory over Daesh,” Staff Lieutenant General Abdulghani al-Assadi, a senior commander in the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, told AFP in Mosul, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
However, there has often been a gap between the declaration of victory and the actual end of fighting in a given area in the course of Iraq’s multi-year war against IS.
Iraqi forces launched the gruelling battle for Mosul on October 17, advancing to the city and retaking its eastern side before setting their sights on the smaller but more densely populated west, where IS still holds limited territory.
Assadi estimated that there are between 200 and 300 IS fighters left in the city, most of them foreigners.
His remarks on victory in Mosul came as IS withdrew from a series of villages in Syria’s Aleppo province where President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are advancing.
“IS withdrew from 17 towns and villages and is now effectively outside of Aleppo province after having a presence there for four years,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Regime forces had been advancing through a sliver of southeastern Aleppo province around a key highway linking Hama province to the southwest and Raqa province further east.
A Syrian military source in rural Aleppo confirmed the withdrawal.