Iraq's PM declares victory in battle against Islamic State
Iraq has announced that the fight against Islamic State is over after more than three years of combat operations.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formally announced the victory in an address to the nation aired on Iraqi state television on Saturday evening.
"Honorable Iraqis, your land has been completely liberated," he said. "The liberation dream has become a reality. We achieved victory in difficult circumstances and with God's help, the steadfastness of our people and the bravery of our heroic forces we prevailed."
"The flag of Iraq is flying high today over all Iraqi territory and at the farthest point on the border," he added, standing before the most senior members of Iraq's security forces.
Following Mr al-Abadi's remarks, his office declared a public holiday on Sunday in celebration of the victory.
Iraqi forces mopped up the last pockets of IS fighters from Iraq's western deserts on Saturday, securing the country's border with Syria, a step that marked the end of combat operations against the extremists.
"All Iraqi lands are liberated from terrorist Daesh gangs and our forces completely control the international Iraqi-Syrian border," said Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah, a senior Iraqi military commander.
The US applauded the prime minister's announcement.
The U.S. offers "sincere congratulations to the Iraqi people and to the brave Iraqi Security Forces, many of whom lost their lives heroically fighting ISIS," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
"Our coalition will continue to stand with Iraq to support its security forces, economy and stabilization to help ensure that ISIS can never against threaten Iraq's people or use its territory as a haven," said Brett McGurk, US special presidential envoy to the anti-IS coalition.
"We mark today's historic victory mindful of the work that remains," he added.
Iraq's government remains faced with significant security threats, an economic crisis and the enormous task of rebuilding swathes of territory decimated by the IS fight.
IS fighters overran nearly a third of Iraqi territory, including Mosul, the country's second largest city and Tikrit, the capital of Iraq's central Salahuddin province in the summer of 2014. The following year, IS fighters also overran Anbar's provincial capital of Ramadi.
Since then, Iraqi ground forces closely backed by the US-led coalition and mostly Shiite paramilitary forces backed by Iran have slowly retaken all of that territory.
The pace of the anti-IS operation accelerated last year as coalition-backed Iraqi ground forces prepared for the assault on Mosul that was formally launched in October 2016.
After more than nine months of mostly grueling urban combat, Mr al-Abadi declared victory over IS in Mosul in July.
In the months that followed Iraqi forces retook a handful of other IS held towns including Tal Afar in August, Hawija in September and Qaim in October. In November, Iraqi forces retook the last Iraqi town held by IS - Rawah, near the border with Syria.