BAGHDAD, Iraq — Following a series of startling victories, militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have captured most of Baghdad, after seizing Mosul and Tikrit last week.
In a rare public appearance, ISIS commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took the opportunity to declare that "major combat operations have ended."
"In the battle of Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and our allies have prevailed," Baghdadi said, sipping from a Green Beans coffee cup and motioning to a nebulous PowerPoint slide, before adding: "We anticipate the removal of all of ISIS forces. We have a plan for what we call 'Phase IV.'"
Baghdadi's press conference was filled with pageantry, as the commander and numerous militants stood on top of Humvees and held American-made weapons, also displaying a massive banner of "Mission Accomplished" the group had stolen.
Still, some have voiced concerns over the possibility of the displacement of millions of Iraqis, and the potential for increased sectarian conflict among Sunni tribes, Shia militias, and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
Baghdadi dismissed such criticism, labeling cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the commander of a Baghdad-based Shia militia, as one of a handful of "dead-enders" who simply "hadn't gotten the message." The ISIS leader also scoffed at concerns over widespread looting, including more than $400 million in hard currency from a Mosul bank.
"Stuff happens!" Baghdadi said. "Freedom is untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes!"
Baghdadi would not comment further on ongoing operations, but he did close his appearance with praise for the 30,000 Iraqi troops who formed a "coalition of the unwilling" by running away when facing just 800 ISIS fighters.
At press time, Baghdadi had donned a reflective belt and left to visit ISIS fighters at nearby Camp Victory for salsa night.