WASHINGTON – Iraqi security forces were still clearing the final pockets of ISIS fighters Monday from the Old City section in western Mosul, a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the city to congratulate his forces.
“One or two pockets are still controlled by ISIS militants who have no more than two options: to surrender or to be killed,” Abadi said, according to the BBC.
ISIS is still present along the west bank of the Tigris River, according to Iraqi commanders, where the fighters are using their own families as human shields.
The battle for Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has stretched for nine months, with Iraqi forces and their U.S.-led coalition partners first seizing the east of the city and then regrouping before crossing the Tigris River into the west.
The commander of the U.S.-led counter-ISIS coalition, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, described the fight for the old city in western Mosul as the most intense urban combat seen since World War II.
The fight has left large swaths of the city in ruins, with more than half of the buildings in west Mosul, where fighting was toughest, needing repair. Thousands of civilians were killed in the fight, and more that 920,000 others were displaced.
It’s likely that thousands of residents will remain displaced after fighting comes to an end because of the extensive damage caused by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, artillery and ISIS bombings during the conflict, according to the U.N.
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) applauded the Iraqi and coalition forces involved in the fight in a statement Sunday, and called the coming victory in Mosul an “important success.” However, he said, “this conflict is far from over.”
“It is better to think of today as the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end,” he said.
ISIS militants overran Mosul in Mosul in June 2014, before taking control of large parts of northern and western Iraq. A month later, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made an appearance at the city’s Great Mosque of al-Nuri, proclaiming the creation of a caliphate. ISIS destroyed the 842-year-old mosque late last month.
The hard-line Islamist group still controls significant territory in several Iraqi provinces, and has proven the ability to carry out insurgent attacks in government-held areas. ISIS still controls territory in the northwestern city of Tal Afar, the northern-central city of Hawija and the Western Anbar region along the Euphrates River valley.