“It’s going to continue to be hard every day,” said Col. Pat Work, the commanding officer of the Second Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, which is carrying out the American advisory effort here.
“Iraqi security forces need to be on the top of their game, and we need to be over their shoulder helping them as they move through this transition to consolidate gains and really sink their hold in on the west side,” Colonel Work said as he rolled through the streets of western Mosul recently in an armored vehicle. “ISIS will challenge this.”
The victory could have been sweeter as the Iraqis were denied the symbolism of hanging the national flag from the Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its distinctive leaning minaret, which was wiped from the skyline in recent weeks as a final act of barbarity by Islamic State militants who packed it with explosives and brought it down as government troops approached.
It was at that mosque in June 2014 where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi strode to the top of a pulpit and declared himself the leader of a caliphate straddling the borders of Iraq and Syria, a vast territory where for three years Islamist extremists have governed with a strict form of Islamic law, held women as sex slaves, carried out public beheadings and plotted terrorist attacks against the West.
This past week, as fighting raged nearby, Iraqi soldiers took selfies in front of the stump of the minaret and posed at the spot where Mr. Baghdadi made his speech. Destruction surrounded them, as did the stench of decaying bodies of Islamic State fighters, left to rot in the blazing sun.
The battle for Mosul began in October, after months of planning between Iraqis and American advisers, and some Obama administration officials had hoped it would conclude before they left office, giving a boost to the departing president’s efforts to defeat the Islamic State.
Instead, it lasted until now, and it was far more brutal than many expected. With dense house-to-house fighting and a ceaseless barrage of snipers and suicide bombers, the fight for Mosul was some of the toughest urban warfare since World War II, American commanders have said. Iraqi officers, whose lives have been defined by ceaseless war, said the fighting was among the worst they had seen.
“I have been with the Iraqi Army for 40 years,” said Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aradi, a commander of Iraq’s special forces. “I have participated in all of the battles of Iraq, but I’ve never seen anything like the battle for the old city.” He continued: “We have been fighting for each meter. And when I say we have been fighting for each meter, I mean it literally.”
Even as Mr. Abadi arrived here outfitted in the black uniform of Iraq’s elite Counterterrorism Service, Iraqi forces were pressing to erase a pocket of Islamic State resistance by the Tigris River. Speaking from his base in the old city, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, a senior commander in that service, said that the militants’ enclave was about 200 yards long and 50 yards wide and that he expected it to be taken later in the day or on Monday.
After arriving here, Mr. Abadi met with the Federal Police, who have taken significant losses in the battle, and went to visit the joint command overseeing the operation. But in an acknowledgment that the victory he had come to proclaim was not completely sealed, Iraqi officials said the prime minister would not make a public statement until the last patch of Islamic State territory in Mosul was cleared.
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