Smoke billows from the ruined Grand al-Nuri Mosque after it was retaken by the Iraqi forces at the Old City in Mosul, Iraq June 29, 2017. (REUTERS photo)
MOSUL, Iraq, June 29 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Thursday that the capture of historical al-Nuri mosque in the old city of Mosul marks the end of the self-styled Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.
"The blowing up of al-Nuri mosque and its al-Hadbaa minaret by Daesh (IS group) and bringing them (mosque and minaret) back to the homeland today is a declaration of the end of the illegitimate Daesh state," Abadi said in a statement issued by his office.
"We will continue to chase Daesh members by killing and capturing them until the last one of them in Iraq," said Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi forces.
Abadi's comments came during his visit to the headquarters of the Joint Operations Command (JOC) in Mosul, where he met with the military commanders and discussed with them the developments of the battles to liberate the western side of Mosul.
Earlier in the day, a JOC statement said the Iraqi forces recaptured the area of al-Nuri mosque and its minaret as well as an adjacent neighborhood in the central part of the old city.
"The Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces drove out the extremist IS militants from al-Nuri mosque and its leaning al-Hadbaa minaret, in addition to the adjacent Sarijkhanah neighborhood in the heart of Mosul's old city center," said Abdul-Amir Yarallah of the JOC.
On June 21, the IS bombed al-Nuri mosque, as Iraqi forces were pushing closer to the mosque and the surrounding area, amid fierce house-to-house battles in some nearby alleys.
The mosque was built in 1172 AD along with its famous leaning minaret, which gave the city its nickname "al-Hadbaa" or "the hunchback."
It was where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the cross-border "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria in his sole public appearance in July 2014.
A day after the bombing, Abadi pledged in a press conference to rebuild the mosque and its minaret, as well as other archaeological sites destroyed by terrorist groups such as Nimrud and Hattra in Iraq's Nineveh Province.
A JOC statement said on Tuesday evening that the troops had liberated some 50 percent of the old city in the western side of Mosul.
The CTS forces, federal police and the interior ministry's special forces, known as Rapid Response, have also been fighting inside the old city, but the troops are making slow progress due to the stiff resistance of IS militants and a large number of roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings, in addition to IS snipers taking positions in the buildings and narrow alleys of heavily-populated neighborhoods.
According to recent UN reports, some 100,000 civilians are still trapped in the IS-held areas in the old city center and the adjacent al-Shifaa neighborhood, and the extremist group is using the civilians as human shields.
Mosul, 400 km north of Iraq's capital Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.