BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister on Thursday declared the end of the Islamic State’s grip on Iraqi territory as government forces recaptured the site of a historic mosque in Mosul that had once been the symbolic center of the group’s self-declared caliphate.
Counterterrorism troops retook the area of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri and advanced through the remaining contested streets of Mosul, Iraq’s military said in a statement. The mosque itself was reduced to little more than rubble by the militants last week, but Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said retaking it signaled the demise of the group’s “state” in Iraq.
The 12th-century mosque, famed for its leaning minaret, holds huge significance for the Islamic State as the place where, in July 2014, the organization’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, made his only known public appearance, calling on Muslims around the world to obey him as leader of the group’s newly created caliphate. Just weeks before, the militants had scored a stunning victory over Iraq’s armed forces in Mosul.
The militants had captured the city within days. Iraq’s battle to retake it has stretched on for nearly nine grueling months, and the military and the city’s civilians have suffered heavy casualties.