Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has declared an end to Islamic State’s (IS) self-declared “caliphate” -- three years to the day after it was proclaimed by the militants at a landmark mosque in Mosul that the extremist group has since destroyed.
Abadi’s comments on June 29 come as his U.S.-backed Iraqi special forces captured the compound around the ruins of the centuries old Grand Al-Nuri Mosque, which was blown up by IS extremists on June 21.
It was at the Grand Al-Nuri Mosque on June 29, 2014, that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance, declaring an Islamic "caliphate" over territories then held by his extremist militants in Iraq and Syria.
As for Baghdadi himself, a senior Russian diplomat on June 22 said he had likely been killed in a recent Russian air strike, although the claim has not been confirmed.
On June 29, Iran's state news agency quoted Ali Shirazi, a representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying Baghdadi was "definitely dead."
Iraqi and coalition officials said the end is near for the estimated 300 IS militants who are making their last stand in the crowded, narrow streets of Mosul's Old City.
"We are seeing the end of the fake [IS] state. The liberation of Mosul proves that," Abadi said in a Twitter posting. "We will not relent. Our brave forces will bring victory."
Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon concurred, saying, "I can't put a timeline on that for them, but I see it closer to days than a week or weeks,"
Nevertheless, a BBC reporter who was traveling with Iraqi troops said the mosque compound was still exposed to sniper and mortar fire, and the Associated Press reported heavy clashes taking place in other parts of the Old City.
As Iraqi forces clear the city of IS extremists, the death and destruction that the area has suffered has become visible.
"There are hundreds of bodies under the rubble," Iraqi special forces Major Dhia Thamir said.
Special forces Major General Sami al-Aridi acknowledged that some civilians had been killed by air strikes and artillery in the Old City.
"Of course, there is collateral damage -- it is always this way in war," he said.
The United Nations says some 50,000 civilians are thought to be trapped behind IS lines.
IS captured large swathes of territory from Iraqi and Syrian government forces in 2014 but have been pushed back since then in both countries by U.S.-backed forces.
IS has been blamed for atrocities in both countries, along with terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere.
With reporting by AFP, AP, the BBC, and IRNA