Iraq Prime Minister Declares Victory Over ISIS



The prime minister’s announcement heralded a significant turnaround for the nation’s armed forces and political leadership from the summer of 2014, when the military, hollowed out by years of corruption and inept political decisions, crumbled under the juggernaut of the Islamic State’s once-formidable fighting force.

By June that year, the terrorist group had seized control of Iraq’s Sunni-dominated north and west, putting more than four million Iraqis under its control. At first, some of those Iraqis were willing supporters of the insurgent force, in large part because of the years of sectarian violence and abuse they had experienced from Iraq’s Shiite-majority politicians.

But the puritanical punishments and cruelties ISIS inflicted soon made the group a feared and unwelcome overlord.

Now, Iraqis around the capital and many parts of the liberated regions say they have a newfound pride in their security forces, as well as in their government. Mr. Abadi is routinely cited by supporters and rivals alike as Iraq’s most popular and trusted politician.

Still, security analysts and military commanders warned that the end of large-scale military maneuvers did not mean the end of the Islamic State threat.

Hours before Mr. Abadi’s speech, a bomb suspected of being planted by insurgents exploded in the center of Tikrit, the hometown of former President Saddam Hussein and an area of antigovernment activity for many years, before the creation of the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate.

Among the urgent challenges officials now face to ensure security and stability are reconstruction plans for cities like Mosul, which was destroyed by the fighting, as well as reconciliation programs for the country’s Sunni and Shiite communities, said Hussein Allawi, a professor of national security at Al Nahrain University in Baghdad.

Some three million Iraqis remain displaced by the war, and municipal services have yet to be restored in many liberated areas.

“The battles against Daesh are over, but the war is not,” Mr. Allawi said.

Hakim al-Zamili, who leads Parliament’s security and defense committee, estimates that 20,000 hard-core supporters of the Islamic State remain in the country, hidden among the large groups of displaced people or in remote areas of the western deserts.

Iraqi intelligence and other officials over recent weeks have documented the rise of a possibly new violent Islamist movement in the country, which has suffered attacks from various factions of jihadist movements over the past 15 years.

Mr. Zamili and other military officials cautioned that Iraq must devote significant intelligence resources to find and track down these extremists, and that continued military assistance from the American-led coalition was vital to this continuing mission. More than 5,000 American troops are currently based in Iraq, in addition to military trainers from Britain, Italy, Australia and other countries.

“Iraq still needs the intelligence cooperation with the international coalition and neighboring countries because there are many places for ISIS to hide,” said Wathiq al-Hashimi, the chairman of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies, an independent think tank in Baghdad. “ISIS commanders are now in different countries in the world.”

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