Iraqi forces on Thursday retook control of the destroyed historic mosque in the city of Mosul, where three years ago the head of the Islamic State group declared the establishment of a caliphate.
Militants blew up the 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri mosque and its leaning 45-meter minaret last week, furthering the devastation of Mosul during eight months of fighting.
A spokesman for the U.S. military operation against IS said the Iraqi military had liberated the mosque in “a dawn assault,” furthering the Iraqi military’s push into the Old City.
Fighting continued Thursday in Mosul, but members of special forces fighting militants in the city told VOA they thought they would be in control of the Old City section of western Mosul — the Islamic State’s stronghold — by Friday or Saturday.
The Iraqi security forces, who have been backed by airstrikes and ground support from a U.S.-led coalition, “continued their advance on the remaining two ISIS-holdouts: the Old City and the al-Jamouri Hospital complex,” said the military spokesman, Army Colonel Ryan Dillon.
Dillon called the eventual liberation of Mosul “imminent” and said the so-called IS caliphate was crumbling “from the outside and from within.”
“ISIS cannot stop the progress that Iraqis and Syrians have mounted in the last two years,” Dillon wrote on Twitter. “As ISIS continues to lose territory, their morale plummets and ISIS leaders have abandoned fighters to die.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said capturing the mosque in Mosul amounted to an acknowledgement of defeat by Islamic State.
“We are seeing the end of the fake Daesh [Islamic State] state, the liberation of Mosul proves that. We will not relent, our brave forces will bring victory,” he wrote on Twitter.
The militant group has lost control of the other major Iraqi cities it once held, and while it controls more areas in Syria, a collection of forces there is focused on recapturing the de facto IS capital of Raqqa.
VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.