Iraqi forces are on the verge of recapturing the city of Mosul from the Islamic State, three years after the terror organization declared it as a caliphate.
The city, located in Northern Iraq, is considered a key battleground in the U.S-led coalition’s fight against ISIS, as it serves as the Islamic State capital in Iraq and its largest city. On Tuesday, forces surrounded the historic Grand al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City of Mosul.
However, on Wednesday evening, Iraqi forces confirmed that ISIS had destroyed the mosque, which dates back to the 12th century, describing it as “another historical crime.”
“As our Iraqi Security Force partners closed in on the al-Nuri mosque, [IS] destroyed one of Mosul and Iraq’s great treasures,” a senior U.S. commander in Iraq said in a statement. “This is a crime against the people of Mosul and all of Iraq, and is an example of why this brutal organization must be annihilated.”
Previous reports have claimed that the liberation of the city is “imminent,” with some Iraqi officials hopeful that the operation could be over by the beginning of Eid on June 25th. However, the spokesman for American operations against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq declined to predict when the battle will end.
“They will liberate Mosul — it’s just a matter of time when that’s going to happen — but I’m not going to put a timeline on that for them,” American Col. Ryan Dillon told reporters last month. Meanwhile, another military commander in the region, Col. Patrick Work, recently warned that the final stages of the offensive are likely to be “extremely violent.”
According to the Iraqi military, approximately 300 Islamic State militants remain the area, compared to 6,000 when the battle of Mosul began last October. It also follows unconfirmed news reports that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in May, although others suggest he is hiding in a location on the border between Iraq and Syria.
Following the liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State, many have expressed concerns that Iranian-backed Shiite militias will attempt to capture the city. Baghdad’s government is run by Shiite Muslims and has made legal exceptions to allow the Shiite-led Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia cooperate with the official Iraqi military in Mosul.
While not all members of the PMF are Shiites, most are, and the militia’s leadership has ties to Iran and Hezbollah. PMF fighters have threatened to kill U.S. troops who enter the fight against ISIS.
In their attempts to retain control of the city, ISIS has gone as far as launching a chemical attack targeting both women and children, with a report last month revealing the organization has conducted chemical weapons experiments on captives.
A report conducted by the United Nations recently found that over 300,000 civilians in Mosul have been displaced by the conflict, despite 94,500 being able to return to their homes in liberated parts of the city.