Iraqi leader on ISIS battle in Tikrit: “The enemy has been defeated”

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(CNN) — The Iraqi Prime Minister arrived triumphant Wednesday in the northern city of Tikrit, newly liberated a year after it was first attacked by the ISIS terrorist group.

Haider al-Abadi, who is also Iraq’s top military commander, said Tuesday on Iraqiya TV that the city was under the control of Iraqi forces.

ISIS, which set upon the city in March 2014, had taken control of it last June.

Iraqi forces continued to clean out pockets of resistance Wednesday, said Interior Minister Mohammed al-Ghabban, who was also in the city. But he said the Iraqi government would be in full control shortly.

“The enemy has been defeated, and it has lost all its capabilities,” al-Ghabban said. “In the coming hours, the battle will end.”

ISIS’ nine-month dominion over the city was marked by brutality and terror. Last June, the group reportedly massacred more than 1,500 air force cadets there. And in September, its members destroyed an Assyrian church that had graced the city since A.D. 700.

On Tuesday, Iraqi forces reached the center of Tikrit and hoisted the nation’s flag on top of the Governorate Building, al-Abadi said.

Tactics to be replicated in other cities

The push into Tikrit came days after U.S.-led airstrikes targeted ISIS bases around the city. Al-Abadi said those tactics would now be replicated in other areas.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. deputy special presidential envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, tweeted that the coalition’s airstrikes had destroyed numerous ISIS shelters. ISIL is another name for ISIS.

“We will continue to support courageous Iraqi forces operating under Iraqi command as they work to reclaim their territory from #ISIL,” McGurk tweeted.

Iraqi forces had tried many times to take back Tikrit since ISIS conquered it as part of its effort to create an Islamic caliphate. But until now, those efforts had failed.

“We managed to take (ISIS) by surprise,” al-Abadi said.

The latest push began after March 1, when al-Abadi ordered Iraqi forces to retake Tikrit and Salahuddin province. They were aided by a coalition made up primarily of Shiite militiamen and volunteers.

The militia members, estimated to number around 20,000, are backed by Iran. The offensive marked the first open participation of Iranian advisers on the front lines.

The victory in Tikrit sets the stage for Iraqi forces to take back an even bigger prize — Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. A U.S. official said in February that up to 25,000 Iraqi troops plan to return to Mosul in April or May in an effort to retake the city.

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