Mosul // Iraq will declare victory over ISIL in Mosul during the “next few days,” a senior commander said on Friday, as the extremist militants were pushed back in neighbouring Syria as well.
“In the next few days, we will announce the final victory over Daesh,” said Staff Lt Gen Abdulghani Al Assadi of the elite Counter-Terrorism Service.
Gen Al Assadi estimated that there were between 200 and 300 ISIL fighters left in the city, most of them foreigners.
His remarks on victory in Mosul came as ISIL withdrew from a series of villages in Syria’s Aleppo province where president Bashar Al Assad’s forces are advancing.
“ISIL 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 south-eastern Aleppo province around a key highway linking Hama province to the south-west and Raqqa province further east.
A Syrian military source in rural Aleppo confirmed the withdrawal.
“The military operation is ongoing and Daesh withdrew from the Aleppan countryside towards rural territory in Hama and Raqqa,” the source said.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are also fighting to retake Raqqa, ISIL’s self-declared capital in the country.
On Thursday, they cut off ISIL’s last escape route, trapping the extremists inside the city.
The SDF broke into Raqqa on June 6 after spending months chipping away at ISIL territory around the city.
Its fighters have since captured two eastern and two western districts of the city and are pushing towards its centre, where ISIL fighters are holding tens of thousands of civilians.
Around 2,500 militants are fighting in the city, according to British Maj Gen Rupert Jones, a deputy commander in the US-led coalition against ISIL.
The loss of Raqqa and Mosul would be a major blow to ISIL, which declared a cross-border “caliphate” encompassing swathes of Iraq and Syria three years ago. However, 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 Mosul, Iraqi forces on Thursday captured the Grand Al Nuri mosque where ISIL chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi made his only known public appearance in 2014, calling on Muslims worldwide to obey him.
ISIL blew up the mosque and its famed leaning minaret last week as Iraqi forces closed in.
Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi hailed the recapture of the mosque as a sign of ISIL’s impending defeat and the US-led coalition also said that victoty for Iraqi forces in Mosul was near.
“I can’t put a timeline on that for them, but I see it closer to days than a week or weeks,” said coalition spokesman Col Ryan Dillon.
He praised the Iraqi forces’s “grit and determination” and said coalition support would help bring “an imminent liberation”.
With the end of the battle for Mosul in sight, the UN rights office on Friday highlighted concerns about retribution against residents of the city suspected of having ties to ISIL.
“We are seeing an alarming rise in threats, specifically of forced evictions, against those suspected of being [ISIL] members or whose relatives are alleged to be involved” with ISIL, spokesman Rupert Colville said.
* Agence France-Presse