Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State on Saturday, announcing the end of more than three years of battles to regain control over nearly one-third of the country that had been under the terrorist group’s dominion.
Mr. Abadi’s carefully calibrated statement came months after armed forces had wrested back control over Iraq’s major urban areas, notably its second-largest city, Mosul, and had shifted focus to mopping up remnants of the militants who had escaped or gone underground in the vast desert border areas between Iraq and Syria.
“Our forces fully control the Iraqi-Syrian border, and thus we can announce the end of the war against Daesh,” Mr. Abadi said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, known as ISIS or ISIL.
“Our battle was with the enemy that wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won with our unity and determination,” he said.
The Iraqi senior military commander in charge of operations against the Islamic State confirmed that his forces, supported by the American-led coalition, had regained control of the border areas. Military leaders have said they were the last part of the country where ISIS’ supporters could muster any organized resistance.
The prime minister’s announcement heralded a significant turnaround for the nation’s armed forces and political leadership from the summer of 2014, when the military, hollowed out by years of corruption and inept political decisions, crumbled under the juggernaut of the Islamic State’s once-formidable fighting force.
By June that year, the terrorist group had seized control of Iraq’s Sunni-dominated north and west, putting more than four million Iraqis under its control. At first, some of those Iraqis were willing supporters of the insurgent force, in large part because of the years of sectarian violence and abuse they had experienced from Iraq’s Shiite-majority politicians.
But the puritanical punishments and cruelties ISIS inflicted soon made the group a feared and unwelcome overlord.
Now, Iraqis around the capital and many parts of the liberated regions say they have a newfound pride in their security forces, as well as in their government. Mr. Abadi is routinely cited by supporters and rivals alike as Iraq’s most popular and trusted politician.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Margaret Coker and Falih Hassan