Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has issued a statement acknowledging his group’s defeat in Iraq and calling on supporters to either flee or carry out suicide attacks, according to a media report.
Baghdadi’s statement was titled “farewell speech” and was distributed among IS preachers and clerics on Tuesday, Al Arabiya quoted Iraq’s Alsumaria television network as saying.
Alsumaria quoted sources in the Iraqi governorate of Nineveh as saying that Baghdadi had ordered the closure of the IS office regulating the group’s fighters. He also ordered non-Arab fighters to either return to their countries or detonate themselves, promising them “72 women in heaven”.
Many IS leaders in Iraq had fled towards areas in neighboring Syria controlled by the group, the sources said.
Iraqi forces backed by the US and other countries have been advancing towards IS-held areas in Iraq over the past weeks. The group has suffered one setback after another in its former stronghold of Mosul.
Baghdadi, the so-called caliph of the IS, has not been seen in public for long. There have been several reports of him being killed or injured in air strikes or attacks but he has usually emerged with an audio message or statement after such reports.
US-backed Iraqi forces advancing in western Mosul fought off a counter-attack by the militants during bad weather in the early hours of Thursday, officials said.
Some militants were able to get near elite Iraqi units in southwestern Mosul, hidden among people displaced by the fighting, Reuters reported.
Iraqi forces captured eastern Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting and launched their attack on districts that lie west of the Tigris river on February 19.
Defeating the IS in Mosul would crush the Iraqi wing of the caliphate declared by Baghdadi in 2014.