Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalayi lauded the forces’ achievements and hoped for liberation of remaining areas from ISIS.
He also described Popular Mobilization Units, known as Hashd al-Shaabi, as heroes who took up arms when commanded by the religious leadership to defend Iraq and religious sanctities against ISIS.
Iraq’s government troops and Popular Mobilization Units captured the town of Hawija and the surrounding areas, ISIS’s last stronghold in northern Iraq, the military said on Thursday, leaving the militant group holed up in pockets of land by the Syrian border, across which its self-proclaimed "caliphate” once stretched.
With the fall of Hawija, which lies near the Kurdish-held oil city of Kirkuk, the only area that remains under control ISIS in Iraq is a stretch alongside the western border with Syria, where the terrorist group is also in retreat.
"The army’s 9th armored division, the Federal Police, the Emergency Response division and (…) Popular Mobilization liberated Hawija,” said a statement from the joint operations commander, Lieutenant-General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah.
State TV showed footage of Iraqi forces putting flags in one of the town’s main squares while Humvees patrolled empty streets littered with car wrecks, houses riddled with bullets and shattered storefronts.
Thick black smoke continued to rise from areas surrounding Hawija, from oil wells torched by the militants to prevent air detection.
Iraq launched its offensive on Sept. 21 to dislodge ISIS from the Hawija area, where up to 78,000 people were estimated to be trapped, according to the United Nations.
The militants continue to control the border town of al-Qaim and the region surrounding it.
They also hold parts of the Syrian side of the border, but the area under their control is shrinking as they retreat.
ISIS’s cross-border "caliphate” effectively collapsed in July, when Iraqi forces captured Mosul, the group’s de facto capital in Iraq, in a grueling battle which lasted nine months.