Iraq formally declared victory over ISIS on Saturday, saying that the battle that began in 2014 was over after the military kicked out the extremists from all the territory they once controlled. Although ISIS militants are still expected to be a threat and could launch a guerilla war, it marked a stark turning point for a terrorist group that once controlled as much as one-third of the country.
“Dear Iraqis, your land has been completely liberated, and your towns and villages have been returned to the homeland,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised address. “The dream of liberation became a reality.” The victory came after the military shifted its focus to rout out militants in the border areas between Iraq and Syria. “Our forces fully control the Iraqi-Syrian border, and thus we can announce the end of the war against Daesh,” Abadi said, referring to ISIS using its Arabic acronym.
After Abadi spoke, the government declared Sunday a public holiday to celebrate the victory that was celebrated by the United States. The U.S. offered its “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. British Prime Minister Theresa May also congratulated Iraq but warned the threat is far from over. “This signals a new chapter towards a more peaceful, prosperous country,” May said. “We must be clear however, that whilst Daesh is failing, they are not yet defeated. They still pose a threat to Iraq, including from over the Syrian border.”
Military analysts agreed that just because the big military fights against ISIS may be over that doesn’t mean the terrorist group no longer poses a threat. The Guardian explains:
Isis is likely to prove a problem for Iraqi authorities for many years to come. The group grew out of an insurgent movement, and was preparing for a return to guerrilla tactics as its territory shrank this summer.
Large numbers of Isis fighters are thought to have retreated into the countryside or formed sleeper cells among civilian populations. Soon after Abadi’s announcement, an Iraqi news agency reported that a group of suicide bombers had been found in a tunnel in the city of Hawija.
Plus there is a lot of reconstruction work that needs to be done as some three million Iraqis continue to be displaced by war, notes the New York Times. “The battles against Daesh are over, but the war is not,” said Hussein Allawi, a professor of national security at Al Nahrain University in Baghdad.