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There was a time when a real victory seemed impossible.
But after almost four years of confrontation, Iraq announced that the war against the self-styled Islamic State (IS) is over.
“My dear Iraqis, our land has been completely liberated … The dream of liberation became a reality, ” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised address from Baghdad.
The Iraqi troops now have full control of the Syrian-Iraqi border.
The border area was one of the last areas that EI still held under its power, until it lost control of the city of Rawa in November.
The State Department of the United States celebrated the end of the “vile occupation” of EI in Ira k and said the group will continue fighting.
The announcement of Iraq comes two days after the Russian army declared that it had fulfilled its mission to defeat EI in Syria.
The jihadist group had seized large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014, when it proclaimed a “caliphate” and imposed its rule on some 10 million people.
But it suffered a series of defeats in the last two years, losing in July to Mosul, the second most important city in Iraq and last month to Raqqa, in northern Syria.
According to media reports, some IS fighters dispersed in the Syrian camp, while others fled across the Turkish border.
An unfinished battle
Analysis of Sebastian Usher, editor of Arab affairs of the BBC
Undoubtedly, this is a moment of pride for Abadi. It is a victory that once seemed like it could only be rhetoric rather than real.
But if the military war against EI in Iraq really ended, and the elite forces of the country can step aside after a conflict in which they had to pay a high price, it does not mean that the battle against the ideology of EI or his ability to organize an insurrection is over, whether in Iraq, Syria or the rest of the world.
It is possible that the level of attacks has decreased in recent times, but Iraqi cities and towns are still victims of suicide bombers, while the conditions that fueled the growth of jihadism remain, even in the territory that has been recaptured.
“Our forces are in complete control of the Syrian-Iraqi border and, therefore, announce the end of the war against IS ,” Abadi said Saturday.
“The enemy wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won thanks to our unity and determination, and we have triumphed in a short time,” he added.
The Iraqi armed forces issued a statement saying that Iraq had been “totally liberated” from IS.
The spokeswoman for the US State Department, Heather Nauert, said in a statement that Iraqis who had lived under the “brutal control” of the jihadists are now free.
“The United States joins the Iraqi government in emphasizing that the liberation of Iraq does not mean that the fight against terrorism, and even against IS , in Iraq is over, ” he added.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May congratulated Abadi on this “historic moment”, but warned that EI still posed a threat, even from across the border in Syria.
Last month, the Syrian army said it had “completely liberated” the eastern border city of Albu Kamal, the last urban bastion of IS in that country.
On Thursday, the head of operations of the Russian General Staff, Colonel Sergei Rudskoi, said: “The mission of the armed forces of the Russian Federation to defeat groups of the terrorist organization Islamic State in Syrian territory was fulfilled.”
He said Russia’s military presence in Syria would now focus on preserving the ceasefire and restoring peace.
The fall of EI generated fears that its fighters would escape through the borders of Syria to carry out more attacks abroad.
The war against EI in Iraq
- January 2014 : Islamic State forces in Iraq and the Levant take control of cities in Falluja and Ramadi.
- June 2014: The jihadists take Mosul, the second most important city in Iraq, after a battle of six days.
- June 29, 2014: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) changes its name to Islamic State, announcing a new caliphate under the command of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
- August 2014: Sinjar capture. Some 200,000 civilians, mostly Yazidis, flee to the mountains of Sinjar.
- March 2015: Iraqi forces and Allied Shiite militias resume Tikrit.
- December 2015: Ramadi is recaptured.
- June 2016: the Iraqi army takes control of Falluja.
- October 2016: Iraqi forces, Shiite militias, Kurdish units and international allies besiege Mosul
- July 2017: retake control of Mosul.
- December 2017: the Prime Minister of Iraq announces the end of the war against EI.