Mosul, June 29 (IANS) Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State (IS) terror organisation in Mosul on Thursday said they had captured the iconic Great Mosque of al-Nuri where the IS chief had declared the so-called caliphate three years ago.
Joint Operations Commander Abdel Amir Jarallah issued a statement claiming that Iraqi counter-terror forces had liberated the al-Nuri mosque and the surrounding Serjkhana neighbourhood, Efe news reported.
Shortly after the terror group’s rise to power in the northern Iraqi city, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014 used the mosque to deliver a speech in which he proclaimed the establishment of the group’s caliphate.
Last week, the IS militants put explosives in al-Nuri mosque and its famous leaning minaret Hadba, dating back to the 12th century, due to the proximity of Iraqi troops.
The mosque was one of the great monuments in Islam after the grand mosques of Mecca and Medina, al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, rivalling others such as the Amr ibn al-‘As mosque in Egypt and other more modern structures.
The building was virtually destroyed and, according to images shown by the Iraqi Army, the only part remaining from the minaret is its base and a dome supported by a few pillars.
The IS forces are increasingly cornered by Iraqi forces in the Old City of Mosul, which was their main stronghold in Iraq.
The joint forces — made up of the Army and police — said on Wednesday that they control 50 per cent of the old part of the city and that only a small part of land remains in the hands of the radicals.
In January, the troops declared the eastern half of Mosul “liberated” after three months of offensive.
In February, they launched the second phase of the military operations, on the west side of the city, which is divided in two by the Tigris river.
IS chief Baghdadi has left the fighting in Mosul to local commanders and is believed to be hiding in the border area between Iraq and Syria, according to US and Iraqi military sources.
Mosul is the final urban stronghold of the IS in Iraq.