The Iraqi prime minister has declared the city of Mosul fully liberated from Islamic State, after the largest urban battle in modern history ended in defeat for the jihadists.
Jubilant soldiers tore down the black flag of Isil, which had flown over Mosul for three years, hoisting up the Iraqi flag in its place.
“The commander in chief of the armed forces Haider al-Abadi arrived in the liberated city of Mosul and congratulated the heroic fighters and the Iraqi people on the achievement of the major victory,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement.
The nine month-offensive to recapture Iraq’s second city cost the lives of thousands of civilians and countless more Iraqi forces.
In the end, cornered and facing an inevitable conclusion, the last fighters detonated suicide bombs with a few trying to escape across the Tigris river.
The battle for the birthplace of Isil’s “caliphate”, and one of the terror group’s most important territories, had brought fighters from all across the world, including Britain.
Backed by a ferocious aerial bombing campaign by a US-led international coalition, the offensive has turned much of the city to rubble and forced nearly a million people to flee.
The defeat would be the biggest yet for Isil since it seized Mosul in a blitzkrieg offensive in the summer of 2014, sweeping across much of the country’s Sunni Arab heartland and proclaimed a caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria.
A photo on Mr Abadi’s official Twitter account showed him dressed in a black military uniform and cap as he arrived in Mosul to announce the recapture of the city.
The fighting did not seem to be completely over yet, with gunfire still audible in Mosul and air strikes hitting the city around the time the premier’s office released the statement.
Iraqi forces launched the Mosul operation in October, first fighting their way to the city, retaking its east and then assaulting its western side, where some of the heaviest fighting occurred.
The battle has taken a heavy toll on civilians, pushing more than 900,000 people to flee their homes, only a fraction of home have returned, according to the United Nations.
And security forces have also suffered heavy losses, with thousands killed and wounded, though official casualty figures have not been released by Iraqi authorities.
IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since regained much of the territory they lost.
The recapture of Mosul does not however mark the end of the threat posed by IS, which holds territory elsewhere in Iraq and is able to carry out frequent bombings in government-held areas.
In Syria, a US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance is fighting to oust the jihadist group from the northern city of Raqa after penetrating its heavily fortified historic centre.