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Mosul victory in ‘days’ as Daesh falls back in Syria

Army estimates that there are between 200 and 300 Daesh fighters left in city, most of them foreigners

By AFP - Jul 01,2017 - Last updated at Jul 01,2017

Members of Iraq’s elite Rapid Response Division patrol in the Shifa neighbourhood, on the west bank of Mosul, on Saturday, where they are battling some of the last members of the Daesh group in the city (AFP photo)

MOSUL, Iraq — Iraq will declare victory over the Daesh terror group in Mosul during the “next few days”, a senior commander said Friday, as the extremists fell back in neighbouring Syria.

Daesh, which declared a cross-border “caliphate” encompassing swathes of Iraq and Syria three years ago, is now facing twin offensives in Mosul and Raqqa, its two most emblematic strongholds.

But while the loss of the two cities would be a major blow to Daesh, 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.

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 multiyear war against Daesh.

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 Daesh still holds limited territory.

Assadi estimated that there are between 200 and 300 Daesh fighters left in the city, most of them foreigners.

His remarks on victory in Mosul came as Daesh withdrew from a series of villages in Syria’s Aleppo province where President Bashar Assad’s forces are advancing.

“[Daesh] 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 Raqqa province further east.

A Syrian military source in rural Aleppo confirmed the withdrawal.

 

Daesh escape route cut 

 

“The military operation is ongoing and Daesh withdrew from the Aleppan countryside towards rural territory in Hama and Raqqa,” the source told AFP.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are also fighting to retake Raqqa, Daesh’s de facto capital in the country.

On Thursday, they cut off Daesh’s last escape route, trapping the extremists inside the city.

“The SDF has been able to completely encircle Raqqa,” Abdel Rahman said.

The SDF broke into Raqqa on June 6 after spending months chipping away at extremist 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 Daesh extremists are holding tens of thousands of civilians.

Around 2,500 extremists are fighting in the city, according to British Major General Rupert Jones, a coalition deputy commander.

In Mosul, Iraqi forces captured the iconic Nuri Mosque on Thursday, the site where Daesh chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi made his only known public appearance in 2014, calling on Muslims worldwide to obey him.

Daesh blew up the mosque and the famed Al Hadba (hunchback) 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 Daesh’s impending defeat.

“We are seeing the end of the fake Daesh state,” Abadi said in an English statement on his Twitter account.

The US-led coalition against the extremists also said that the end of the battle was near.

Speaking about an announcement of Mosul’s recapture, coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said that: “I can’t put a timeline on that for them, but I see it closer to days than a week or weeks.”

 He praised the Iraqi forces’ “grit and determination” and said coalition support would help bring “an imminent liberation”.

The end of the battle will usher in a whole new set of challenges for Iraq, including retribution against residents of the city suspected of having Daesh ties — an issue highlighted by the UN rights office on Friday.

 

“We are seeing an alarming rise in threats, specifically of forced evictions, against those suspected of being [Daesh] members or whose relatives are alleged to be involved with [Daesh],” spokesman Rupert Colville said.

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