Iraq declares 'end of war' against 'Islamic State'

The Iraqi premier has announced the defeat of "Islamic State" (IS) after months of fighting to uproot the militant group. But European authorities have warned that its ideology still remains a threat to global security.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Saturday announced the "end of the war" against the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group, saying Iraqi security forces regained control of the border with Syria.

"Our forces are in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border and I therefore announce the end of the war against Daesh," Abadi said during a press conference in Baghdad, referring to the militant group by its Arabic acronym.

"Our enemy wanted to kill our civilization, but we have won through our unity and our determination. We have triumphed in little time."

"Iraq's flag is today fluttering all over the Iraqi lands and atop the farthest border outpost," Abadi said in a televised address to the nation.

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Terrorism | 09.11.2017

Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah, a senior Iraqi military commander, issued a similar statement, saying the country's military had liberated "all Iraqi lands."

Read more: Will the 'Islamic State' survive?

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the armed forces "have now secured the entire length of the Iraq-Syria border"

US hails 'victory'

The United States hailed the end of IS' "vile occupation" of Iraq, but warned the militant group still posed a threat.

"The Iraqi announcement signals the last remnants of ISIS' self-proclaimed 'caliphate' in Iraq have been erased and the people living in those areas have been freed from ISIS' brutal control," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, referring to the group by an alternative acronym.

"The United States joins the Government of Iraq in stressing that Iraq's liberation does not mean the fight against terrorism, and even against ISIS, in Iraq is over," Nauert added in a statement.

Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, the number two in the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force that has fought alongside the Iraqi army against IS, also believes IS was defeated but not eliminated.

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"It [IS] is still present in some places and its members are trying to infiltrate civilians and villages. IS has changed its method," al-Mohandis said.

Rise of the 'caliphate'

IS rose to notoriety in 2014, when it captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, culminating in the sacking and occupation of Mosul.

In June that year, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the militant group's leader, announced the creation of a so-called caliphate from a historic mosque in Mosul.

Read more: Who is the 'Islamic State' leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

Shortly afterward, the militant group launched terrorist attacks across the globe, striking European capitals such as Berlin, Paris and Brussels while recruiting sympathizers to join their cause in the region and abroad.

Long road to end terror

Over the past year, a US-led coalition against IS dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve has helped partners in Iraq and Syria, including the Iraqi military and Kurdish-led forces, to uproot the militant group from its stronghold.

Earlier this year, Iraqi-led forces backed by Shiite militias and Kurdish forces, ousted the group from Mosul, while in Syria, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias drove IS from its de facto capital, Raqqa.

"In conjunction with partner forces, [the coalition] defeats ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria and sets conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability," the coalition said in a tweet on Saturday.

Ideological threat

Despite a series of major victories against IS in the Middle East, European authorities have warned that the group still presents a threat to security in the EU and the West.

In October, the head of Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the country's domestic intelligence agency, warned of the threats posed by foreign fighters as well as "children, socialized by Islamists ... returning to Germany from a war zone."

Europe can expect IS and those inspired by its jihadist ideology to continue attempts at carrying out terror attacks on European soil, according to Europol's EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report published in 2017.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

Where did it come from?

The "Islamic State" (IS) — also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh — is an al-Qaida splinter group with a militant Sunni Islamist ideology. It emerged in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Their goal is to create a worldwide "caliphate." It gained worldwide notoriety in 2014 after a blitzkrieg military campaign that resulted in the capture of Mosul.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

Where does it operate?

IS is believed to be operational in more than a dozen countries across the world. It controls territories in Iraq and Syria. However, the group has lost much of the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria at the height of its expansion in 2014.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

Who is fighting back?

The US leads an international coalition of more than 50 countries, including several Arab nations. Russia, Iran and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah, which all support the Syrian government, also fight IS. Regional forces such as the Kurdish peshmerga (above) and US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, fight IS on the ground. The Iraqi army and militia have pushed IS from large parts of the country.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

How does it fund itself?

One of IS' main sources of income has been oil and gas. At one point, it controlled an estimated one-third of Syria's oil production. However, US-led airstrikes deliberately targeted oil resources and the Syrian government as well as US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters have retaken most oil wells. Other means of income include taxes, ransom, selling looted antiquities and extortion.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

Where does it carry out attacks?

IS has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks across the globe. The militant group has targeted capitals across the EU, including Berlin, Brussels and Paris. IS leaders have encouraged so-called "lone wolf" attacks, whereby individuals who support IS carry out terrorist acts without the direct involvement of the group.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

What other tactics does it use?

The group uses various tactics to expand its power. IS fighters have looted and destroyed historical artifacts in Syria and Iraq in an attempt at "cultural cleansing." The group has also enslaved thousands of women from religious minority groups, including Yazidis. IS also uses a sophisticated social network to distribute propaganda and recruit sympathizers.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

How has it impacted the region?

IS has further exacerbated the ongoing Syrian conflict. Millions of Syrians and Iraqis have fled their homes, many traveling to Europe in pursuit of refuge. Although it has lost all of its strongholds, the militant group has left extraordinary destruction in its wake. Areas affected by the militant group's rule will likely take years to rebuild.

ls, shs/jlw (AFP, Reuters, AP)