In the heart of the old city, craters littered intersections and roadways, marking the places where bombs pummeled the ground, dropped from coalition warplanes. Street after street was covered in soaring piles of rubble, with rebar poking out of shattered masonry.
In a church used as a weapons-making factory by the Islamic State, mortars were lying on the ground next to a pink backpack decorated with a picture of a kitten. When troops unzipped the backpack, they found plastic sachets of a white explosive powder, which they identified as C4 used in ISIS bombs. Just outside the church, the bodies of two dead Islamic State fighters were covered with a blanket. Iraqi soldiers stationed there identified them as a Russian citizen and a citizen of Tajikistan.
Mosul was the largest city in either Iraq or Syria held by the Islamic State, and its loss signifies the waning territorial claims of a terrorist group that had its beginnings in the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The group is also on the cusp of losing its de facto capital, the Syrian city of Raqqa, which is encircled by Arab and Kurdish fighters supported by the United States and backed by American firepower.
But the end of the Islamic State as a group holding territory does not mean peace is at hand, in Mosul or across Iraq. The group still holds the cities of Hawija and Tal Afar, in northern Iraq, and towns in the Euphrates River Valley in Iraqâs western Anbar Province. Iraqis expect an increase in terror attacks in urban centers, especially in the capital, Baghdad, as the group reverts to its insurgent roots.
Military victory has come without a political agreement between Iraqâs two largest communities, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, whose stark sectarian divisions led to the rise of the Islamic State in the first place. For many members of Iraqâs minority Sunnis, the Islamic State was seen as a protector against abuses they suffered under Iraqâs Shiite-led government, especially under the former prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
After the Islamic State seized Mosul in 2014, many Sunnis welcomed them. Mr. Maliki was then removed from office, replaced by Haider al-Abadi, a more moderate and less-sectarian leader, but one widely viewed as weak. Under Mr. Abadi, there has been no meaningful reconciliation.
âI will leave Mosul because it has become a destroyed city,â said Aisha Abdullah, a teacher who endured life under the Islamic State. âIn every corner of it there is memory and blood.â