MOSUL/Baghdad - Iraqi security forces expect to take full control of Mosul within hours as Islamic State’s defensive lines crumble in its former de facto capital in Iraq, military commanders said on Saturday.

Dozens of soldiers celebrated amid the rubble on the banks of the Tigris river without waiting for a formal victory declaration, some dancing to music blaring out from a truck and firing machineguns into the air, a Reuters correspondent said.

The mood was less festive, however, among some of the nearly one million Mosul residents displaced by months of combat, many of whom are living in camps outside the city with little respite from the blazing summer heat.

“If there is no rebuilding and people don’t return to their homes and regain their belongings, what is the meaning of liberation?” Mohammed Haji Ahmed, 43, a clothing trader, told Reuters in the Hassan Sham camp to the east of Mosul.

“We are seeing now the last meters (yards) and then final victory will be announced,” a television presenter said, citing the channel’s correspondents embedded with security forces fighting in Islamic State’s (IS) redoubt in the Old City of Mosul, by the Tigris. “It’s a matter of hours,” she said.

A US-led international coalition is providing air and ground support to the eight-month campaign to wrest back Mosul, by far the largest city seized by Islamic State in 2014. Almost exactly three years ago, the ultra-hardline group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared from Mosul a “caliphate” over adjoining parts of Iraq and Syria.

A military spokesman cited by the TV said the insurgents’ defense lines were collapsing. Iraqi commanders say the militants were fighting for every meter with snipers, grenades and suicide bombers, forcing security forces to fight house-to-house in the densely populated maze of narrow alleyways.

Dozens of insurgents were killed on Saturday and others tried to escape by swimming across Tigris, state TV said.

“The battle has reached the phase of chasing the insurgents in remaining blocks,” the Iraqi military media office said in a statement. “Some members of Daesh have surrendered,” it added, using an Arab acronym of Islamic State.

Artillery explosions and gunfire could still be heard during Saturday afternoon and a column of smoke billowed over the Old City riverside, the Reuters correspondent said.

The road where the soldiers celebrated was scarred with gaping holes from explosions and rubble from a flattened multi-storey shopping mall. Rubbish and ammunition boxes were strewn around and there was no sign of civilians. Months of urban warfare has displaced 900,000 people, about half the city’s pre-war population, and killed thousands, according to aid organizations.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the end of Islamic State’s “state of falsehood” a week ago, after security forces took Mosul’s medieval Grand al-Nuri mosque - although only after retreating militants blew it up.

Stripped of Mosul, Islamic State’s dominion in Iraq will be reduced to mainly rural, desert areas west and south of the city where tens of thousands of people live. The militants are expected to keep up attacks on selected targets across Iraq. The United Nations predicts it will cost more than $1 billion to repair basic infrastructure in Mosul.

US general says victory announcement ‘imminent’

Iraqi authorities will imminently announce a final victory in the battle to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State group, a US general said Saturday.

“An announcement is imminent,” Brigadier General Robert Sofge told AFP by phone from Baghdad.

“I don’t want to speculate if it’s today or tomorrow but I think it’s going to be very soon,” he added.

The militants that remain in Mosul are fighting to the death in a tiny area of just two blocks of the Old City next to the Tigris River, Sofge said, and those that remain are “desperate.” Some are trying to blend in with fleeing civilians by shaving their beards and changing their clothes, others are playing dead then detonating explosive vests as Iraqi security forces come close. Women IS fighters have blown themselves up amid throngs of displaced civilians.

“They are doing as much damage as they can during these final moves,” Sofge said.

The battle for Mosul first began on October 16, 2016 and the fight has seemed to grow exponentially tougher as US-backed Iraqi security forces closed in on the center of the city.

Slowing the advance toward the final holdouts, IS have placed countless booby traps and bombs in practically every structure they occupied.

“The enemy has strung IEDs all over the place, in every place, in every closet, in one case under a crib,” Sofge said.

A final victory in Mosul would mark an epic milestone for the Iraqi security forces, who had crumbled in the face of an IS onslaught across Iraq in 2014.

“They deserve every bit of a celebration and pride and sense of accomplishment that a military force can feel,” Sofge said, offering a “congratulations in advance in a great battle.”

“This fight in Mosul is not like anything modern militaries have done in our lifetime. You have to go back to World War II to find anything that’s even close.”

Still, Sofge warned that IS still has “plenty of fight left” in other parts of Iraq and Syria.

The militants remain entrenched in several areas including Hawija, Ninevah and the Euphrates River Valley. “The liberation of Mosul is going to cause a reaction,” the general said. “We have to be on guard for the next move.”

Sofge runs a combined operations center for the anti-IS coalition in Baghdad and oversees a “strike cell” that coordinates air strikes in the southern and western part of the country.