“Our forces are in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border and I, therefore, announce the end of the war against Daesh (Islamic State group),” the prime minister told a conference organised by the Iraqi journalists’ union.
Islamic State group militants seized vast areas north and west of Baghdad in a lightning offensive starting in 2014, seizing nearly a third of Iraq’s territory and endangering the very existence of the Iraqi state.
Iraq’s counter-offensive was launched with the backing of an air campaign waged by a US-led coalition, recapturing town after town from the clutches of the jihadists.
“Our enemy wanted to kill our civilisation, but we have won through our unity and our determination. We have triumphed in little time,” Abadi said.
“Congratulations to the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces on the liberation of all Daesh-held populated areas in Iraq,” the US-led coalition said in a statement on Twitter, using an Arabic acronym for the IS group.
Still a threat
Despite the victory announcements, experts have warned that IS fighters retain the capacity of an insurgency group to carry out high-casualty bomb attacks through sleeper cells.
It also retains natural hideouts in the deep gorges of Wadi Hauran, Iraq’s longest valley stretching from the Saudi border up to the Euphrates River and the frontiers with Syria and Jordan.
Hisham al-Hashemi, an expert on jihadist groups, warned that the IS militants still pose a threat and retain arms caches in uninhabited desert zones.
Iran said it had vanquished the IS group last month as the jihadists clung to just a few remaining scraps of territory.
But Abadi said at the time that he would not declare victory until the desert on the border with Syria had been cleared.
The jihadists’ defeat is a massive turnaround for a group that in 2014 ruled over 7 million people in a territory as large as Italy, encompassing large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.
IS group militants are under massive pressure also on the Syrian side of the border. Pro-government forces and US-backed Kurdish-led forces are conducting operations to clear IS fighters from the countryside north of the Euphrates valley after ousting them from all Syrian towns.
General Abdel Amir Yarallah, the head of Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, which was set up to fight the IS group, gave an update on Saturday to announce that the desert valley of Al-Jazira was under the control of Iraqi troops and the Hashed all the way from Nineveh province in the north to Anbar province in the west.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)