MOSUL, Iraq – Iraqi forces are fighting tooth and nail to recapture the last remaining 600 square meters of ISIS ground near the historic al-Nuri mosque where Rudaw cameras captured on Friday close-up footage of rubble from the demolition of the site by the radical group earlier this month.
“God willing, the remaining parts in Old Mosul will be liberated in the coming days,” Lt. Gen. Abdul Wahab al-Saadi of the Golden Division told Rudaw meters away from the destroyed al-Hadba minaret.
This comes a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Hiader al-Abadi declared the “end of the ISIS statelet” on Thursday.
Sporadic fire could be heard near the mosque where an Iraqi commander said there were still pockets of ISIS resistance in Old Mosul.
“The remaining area does not exceed 600 [square] meters,” al-Saadi added.
Iraqi forces were not able to immediately enter the historic site Thursday, they said, because the extremist group rigged the area with explosives.
A Rudaw reporter had to make his way to the minaret through holes and openings made in the walls, a signature of the urban fighting that has been going on for eight months.
PM Abadi said the return of the symbolic site to the nation meant the end of the caliphate.
"Exploding the al-Nuri mosque and al-Hadba minaret by ISIS, and its return to the nest of the homeland today is the declaration of the end of the ISIS statelet,” PM Abadi, also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces stated in Arabic on Thursday.
The commander of the Nineveh Operations Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah also stated on Thursday that the Federal Police and the elite Rapid Response Force had liberated al-Jamhouri hospital and a number of medical departments in Shifa district near Old Mosul.
Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesperson for the US-led anti-ISIS coalition told reporters in a news briefing on Thursday that the full liberation of Mosul was closer to being “days, than week or weeks."
ISIS destroyed the 845-year old site last Wednesday as Iraqi forces were as close as 50 meters from it.
Iraqi Federal Police said they liberated five Yezidis on Thursday as they pushed deeper into Old Mosul.
Iraqi forces have already liberated several other areas in Old Mosul, including Hazar al-Sada, Ahmadiyah, and Faruq 2, and parts of Sanjkhana.
Al-Nuri mosque is where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his so-called caliphate on July 4, 2014, naming himself “caliph,” leader of the whole Islamic world, seeking to found a new Islamic regime.
The advances made against ISIS in the last eight months is in sharp contrast to the summer in 2014 when the extremist was in control of about 40 % of the Iraqi territories.
Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga launched a joint offensive to drive out ISIS from Mosul on October 17, backed by the US-led global coalition.