Iraq has paraded thousands of troops across Baghdad to celebrate recent gains in the battle against Daesh militants, including the liberation of the strategic Fallujah city.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi saluted the parade on Thursday as Iraqi fighter jets, including its F-16s, as well as transport aircraft and helicopters staged fly-overs.
The parade, also marking the anniversary of the 1958 overthrow of the monarchy, was held amid tight security, with hundreds of troops and policemen locking down the central Baghdad area.
A security source said forces from Baghdad Operations Command had a strong presence in downtown Baghdad.
Iraqis are on tenterhooks over a recent surge in terrorist attacks, particularly in the capital, where bombings have become more frequent.
Nearly 300 people lost their lives in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood on July 3, in the worst car bombing since US-led invasion of Iraq. Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.
The celebration comes on the heels of last month’s retaking of the city of Fallujah from Daesh and ahead of an expected assault on Mosul, the last major Iraqi city still under the Takfiri group’s control.
“We will surprise Daesh with new weapons” in the battle for Mosul, Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi told reporters at the parade.
According to commander of Fallujah Liberation Operation Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi, at least 1,800 Takfiri militants were killed in the Fallujah operation.
Fallujah, located some 65 km (40 miles) west of Baghdad, was the first Iraqi city to fall to Daesh in January 2014. Iraqi government troops initially launched the offensive to retake Fallujah on May 23.
The northern and western parts of Iraq have been plagued by gruesome violence ever since Daesh terrorists mounted an offensive in the country in June 2014.
Iraqi government forces, backed by fighters from allied Popular Mobilization Units, have been fighting to push the militants out of the country.
The parade came ahead of planned protests by Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters. The cleric has called for nationwide protests on Friday over the deteriorating security situation and corruption in the country.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Abadi called for unity among all Iraqi factions to preserve military gains against Daesh instead of holding anti-government protests.
He said the government is resolute to fulfill its pledge to enact anti-corruption reforms, stressing that public demands cannot be met through “chaos and vandalism.”
In April, hundreds of outraged protesters broke into the restricted Green Zone of Baghdad and stormed the parliament building to demand government reforms.