Iraq’s prime minister has declared victory in the fight against the so-called Islamic State – but Theresa May has warned the extremist group is “not yet defeated”.
Haider al-Abadi declared final victory over IS on Saturday after Iraqi forces drove its last remnants from the country, three years after the militant group captured about a third of Iraq’s territory, Reuters reported.
The announcement comes two days after the Russian military announced the defeat of the militants in neighbouring Syria, where Moscow is backing Syrian government forces.
Iraqi forces recaptured the last areas still under Islamic State control along the border with Syria, the military said.
He said in a televised address: “Honourable Iraqis: your land has been completely liberated. The dream of liberation is now a reality.
“We have accomplished a very difficult mission. Our heroes have reached the final strongholds of Daesh and purified it. The Iraqi flag flies high today over all Iraqi lands.”
Several squadrons of Iraqi helicopters flew over Baghdad carrying Iraqi flags at noon, in an apparent rehearsal for a victory parade that Iraq is planning to hold in coming days.
The government said the declaration meant Iraqi forces had secured the western desert and the entire Iraq-Syria border, and marked the end of the war against Islamic State.
Abadi declared 10 December a national holiday to be celebrated every year. State television aired celebratory songs praising government forces and militias, and showed scenes of celebration on the streets of Baghdad and other provinces.
Theresa May congratulated Abadi on a “historic” moment, adding “Daesh no longer hold significant territory in Iraq or Syria. This signals a new chapter towards a more peaceful, prosperous country”.
However she said that the fight against IS was not yet over.
The US-led coalition that has been supporting the Iraqi forces against Islamic State welcomed the news, as did Brett McGurk, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy to the coalition.
“We congratulate the Prime Minister and all the Iraqi people on this significant achievement, which many thought impossible,” he said in a series of tweets.
“We honour the sacrifices of the Iraqi people, its security forces, and the Kurdish Peshmerga, and admire the unity in their ranks that had made this day possible.”