29 Dec 2015

Islamic State group “will be defeated in 2016”

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says government forces are planning to liberate Mosul, the group’s last stronghold in Iraq, after taking control of Ramadi from the insurgents.

Iraqi forces in Ramadi (Reuters)

In a speech broadcast on state television, Mr Abadi said: “2016 will be the year of the big and final victory, when Daesh’s presence in Iraq will be terminated”, using an alternative name for the Islamic State (IS) group.

He added: “We are coming to liberate Mosul and it will be the fatal and final blow to Daesh.”

Mosul, about 250 miles north of Baghdad, is the last major population centre in Iraq controlled by IS and its liberation would effectively mark the end of the so-called “caliphate” declared in Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria.

But retaking the city would mean different ethnic groups and political factions working together.

Iraq’s Kurdish finance minister Hoshiyar Zebari said it would be impossible to win Mosul back without the help of the peshmerga, the fighting forces of the nearby Iraqi Kurdistan region, who have proved to be one of the most effective opponents of IS.

Kurdish forces are east, north and west of Mosul while Iraqi security forces and Shia militia fighters are in Baiji to the south.

Peshmerga is a major force; you cannot do Mosul without Peshmerga. Hoshiyar Zebari

Mr Zebari said: “Mosul needs good planning, preparations, commitment from all the key players.

“Peshmerga is a major force; you cannot do Mosul without Peshmerga.

He added: “It will not be an easy operation. For some time they have been strengthening themselves, but it’s doable.”

Mosul had about 2 million residents before it fell to IS in June 2014 as they swept through northern and western Iraq, largely unopposed by the Iraqi army.

In Ramadi, Iraqi forces were filmed flying the national flag and displaying captured IS banners after declaring they had recaptured the city.

Soldiers were shown on state television on Monday publicly slaughtering a sheep in an act of celebration.

Security officials said the forces still needed to clear pockets of insurgents in the city and its outskirts.