BAGHDAD, Dec 10, (Agencies): Iraq’s armed forces held a military parade in Baghdad on Sunday to celebrate the victory announced by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi over the Islamic State group. Abadi on Saturday declared victory in Iraq’s three-year war to expel the jihadist group that at its height endangered the country’s very existence. Iraqi army units marched through the main square in central Baghdad as helicopters and fighter jets flew overhead, witnesses said.
The parade was not broadcast live and only state media were allowed to attend. Abadi had declared Sunday a public holiday after making his announcement, in which he said Iraq had defeated the jihadists “through our unity and our determination”. Iraqis took to the streets to celebrate, including in second city Mosul and the capital Baghdad, singing patriotic songs, waving the national flag and shouting “Iraq, Iraq!”
The Sunni extremists of IS seized control of large parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria in 2014, declaring a cross-border “caliphate” and committing widespread atrocities. Backed by a US-led coalition, Iraqi forces gradually retook control of all territory lost to the jihadists over the past three years. The head of the coalition on Sunday congratulated the Baghdad government for defeating IS, but warned that more work needed to be done to ensure the jihadists do not strike again.
“Much work remains, and we will continue to work by, with and through our Iraqi partners to ensure the enduring defeat of DAESH (IS) and prevent its ability to threaten civilisation, regionally and globally,” Lieutenant General Paul E. Funk II said in a statement. On Saturday, the US State Department had also hailed the end of the jihadists’ “vile occupation”, but cautioned that “the fight against terrorism” is not over. Experts warn that IS remains a threat, with the capacity as an insurgent group to carry out high-casualty bomb attacks using sleeper cells.
World leaders congratulated Iraq Sunday following the prime minister’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State group. Saudi Arabia says the achievement is a big victory against terrorism in the region and the United Kingdom applauded Iraq’s security forces “for their courage and sacrifice.” Abadi declared victory in the more than three-year fight against IS in a national address aired on Iraqi state television Saturday evening. Sunday was an official holiday in Iraq. A military parade attended by Abadi was held inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone — a district that houses most of Iraq’s government buildings and foreign embassies. In the evening, the capital’s skies filled with fireworks. “DAESH no longer hold significant territory in Iraq or Syria,” United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May said according to an official statement released by her office. “This signals a new chapter towards a more peaceful, prosperous country.”
In Saudi Arabia’s statement Sunday, the kingdom reiterated Saudi support for Iraq. Several thousand Saudis are believed to have joined the ranks of Sunni extremist groups to fight in Iraq and Syria. However, the kingdom has also been a target of multiple attacks claimed by IS and carried out by local affiliates.
The top US-led coalition commander US Lt Gen Paul E. Funk II pledged that coalition forces would continue to support Iraq after the conventional military fight against IS is concluded. “Much work remains, and we will continue to work by, with and through our Iraqi partners to ensure the enduring defeat of DAESH and prevent its ability to threaten civilization, regionally and globally,” Funk said in a statement released by the coalition Sunday.
DAESH is an Arabic acronym for IS. Iraqi forces retook the last IS strongholds in Iraq’s western deserts earlier Saturday and secured the country’s border with Syria. IS fighters overran nearly a third of Iraqi territory, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city and Tikrit, the capital of Iraq’s central Salahuddin province in the summer of 2014. The following year, IS fighters also overran Anbar’s provincial capital of Ramadi.