Jobs data focus for Australian investors

The Australian share market is set for a flat start to the week before attention shifts to an expected lift in employment figures.

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US stocks ended flat on Friday after a weaker-than-expected jobs report and US missile strikes in Syria in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 0.03 per cent.

That signals a flat start to local trading on Monday.

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said the US missile strikes against Syria caused a bit of uncertainty in financial markets but it looks to have been short-lived, as has been the case in the past in response to limited military strikes and most terrorist attacks.

“This is likely to remain the case as the strike was highly targeted and proportional to the chemical attack and does not signal increased US involvement in Syria,” Dr Oliver said.

Thursday’s jobs data will be the main focus for Australian investors.

The market forecast is for a rise of 20,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate remaining at 5.9 per cent.

Monday’s housing finance data for February will also be of interest, with the market forecast for a flat result.

Commonwealth Bank economist Kristina Clifton said conditions in the housing market remain in focus following the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s decision to implement additional measures to slow the growth of interest-only loans and loans with high loan to valuation ratios.

The Reserve Bank of Australia is concerned soaring housing prices are pushing up the level of household debt relative to incomes.

Ms Clifton said the RBA will elaborate further on its views on housing in its financial stability review on Thursday.

Westpac, which expects a one per cent dip in owner occupier loans, said the value of investor loans could remain strong in February as lenders moved to increase investor loan rates in March and APRA’s harder line on macro prudential measures was announced in April.

Chinese state media cheer Xi-Trump meeting

Chinese state media is cheering the meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as one that shows the world that confrontation between the two powers was not inevitable.

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The official China Daily newspaper on Saturday said it was encouraging to see the two-day summit that ended on Friday “going as well as it could” after earlier “confusing signals” from Washington about how it was approaching the US-China relationship.

Trump had campaigned with strident anti-China rhetoric and had angered Beijing before taking office by talking to the president of Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own.

But the two sides avoided any diplomatic gaffes at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida that would have tarnished the meeting in the eyes of the protocol-conscious Chinese.

China Daily said both parties appeared “equally enthusiastic about the constructive relationship they have promised to cultivate”.

State-run Chinese tabloid Global Times said the meeting “served as an indicator that the China-US relationship is still very much on course since the Trump administration took office in January” and it was likely the two nations would develop a more “pragmatic relationship”.

Their comments were echoed by a front-page commentary in the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, which said the meeting established the tone for the development of US-China relations.

In a tweet on Saturday, Trump wrote of the meeting: “goodwill and friendship was formed, but only time will tell on trade”.

In the talks, Trump pressed Xi to do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear program and the two agreed to a 100-day plan for trade talks aimed at boosting US exports and reducing the gaping US trade deficit with Beijing.

US industry had hoped Trump would deliver a strong message to Xi behind closed doors to end what they see as discriminatory trade policies, but not do anything rash to spark a trade war.

Scott moves within striking distance of second Green Jacket

The first and only Australian to win the Masters, Scott finds himself three shots back of co-leaders Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia going into Sunday’s final round at Augusta National.

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He has more work to do than in 2013 when he trailed by one after three rounds before prevailing in a playoff victory over Argentine Angel Cabrera.

“That’s plenty close,” summed up Scott. “It’s just the great players in front, and in conditions like this, if they’re like this again tomorrow it’s going to be hard, because you’re going to have to make it happen.

“I’m just going to need the round of the year for me tomorrow.”

A second Green Jacket seemed a long-shot after Scott missed the cut last week in his Masters tune-up in Houston, and then opened his account on Thursday with a three-over 75.

But the 36-year-old has barely made a mistake since, and his bogey-free performance on Saturday, which included several golden birdie chances that shaved the hole but did not drop, left him alone in seventh on three-under 213.

“When you feel quite close to the lead it seems like that could just flip with a birdie and a bogey,” said Scott. “I think conditions weren’t quite as nice as this (on) that Sunday.

“It seemed easy today after what we’ve been through the last couple of days.

“I’m going to have to lean on my ball-striking tomorrow, and hit it a couple of feet closer on a few holes to give me realistic chances a bit more often.”

Playing in his 16th Masters, Scott knows he will have to get through the front nine without any damage and then attack.

As always at Augusta, it will come to a boil on the back nine, though come-from-behind victories are not as common as many think.

“I mean, it’s cliche here at the Masters, but it all starts on the back nine,” said Scott. “For me in my position I just have to play a really good front nine, so I can start something on the back nine.

“But I’m going out there with no pressure tomorrow, playing really well tee to green, feeling good on the greens.

“Anything can happen. So it’s really going to be an exciting day tomorrow.”

(Editing by Andrew Both)

Gavrilova cautious going into Wimbledon

Having learnt the hard way not to set lofty grand slam goals, Daria Gavrilova has modest hopes for Wimbledon.

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Left shattered after suffering a first-round French Open exit last month, Australia’s new No.1 says winning one match on London’s hallowed lawns will be a pass mark.

The 23-year-old is up against dangerous Croatian qualifier Petra Martic on Tuesday and is refusing to take comfort in her first-time seeding at the All England Club.

“Baby steps this year,” Gavrilova said.

“I’ve been heartbroken a few times at slams, losing first round.

“My biggest goal is to finally get through first round. Actually I did here last year.

“It’s always tough to play first round of slams. It’s a different pressure. I’ll give it my best chance again.”

In reality, despite downplaying her prospects, Friday’s draw presented Gavrilova with a golden opportunity to reach the second week.

The first higher-ranked player she is projected to meet is Russian 16th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round, a rival just five places above her.

“I won’t go and look too far ahead,” Gavrilova said.

“I really believed that I could do really well there (at the French), at least making the second week.

“But, to be honest, the circumstances. I was really tired from playing so much tennis.

“I’m only in my second consistent year on the tour so I’m still learning a lot.”

The former world junior No.1 says she is happy with her grasscourt build-up.

“I’ve had a pretty good few weeks, played some pretty good tennis on the grass, so I’m ready to go,” Gavrilova said.

Victory would set up a second-round clash on Thursday with either Risa Ozaki of Japan or Czech Denisa Allertova.

We can still avoid spoon: Knights

Newcastle remain confident they can still avoid a third consecutive NRL wooden spoon, despite being trampled 33-12 by the Wests Tigers on Sunday.

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The loss dropped the Knights below the Tigers at the bottom of the ladder, and they now need at least two wins from their final seven games to avoid last place.

Billed by players as their grand final, the Knights turned in their worst performance of the season as they completed just 68 per cent of their sets and went to the break down 20-0, from which they never recovered.

The Knights were unlucky to be denied two tries either side of halftime – one from a questionable forward pass call – but they were still completely outplayed by the Tigers.

When asked on Sunday whether they could still avoid the spoon, forward Jamie Buhrer was forthright in his response.

“Of course,” Buhrer said.

“There have been plenty of games we’ve played this year we feel we could have won.”

“I’m certainly confident we can get some wins up over the back half of the year, but we’ve got to be a lot better than that.”

The Knights have a winnable game next week against Canterbury, who will be without three State of Origin players as well as captain James Graham (neck) and lock Greg Eastwood (knee).

They also have the warriors in Newcastle, who have won just one game in Australia this year.

Meanwhile coach Nathan Brown refused to blame halfback Trent Hodkinson, who had an unhappy return to first grade after being dropped to NSW Cup for two months.

Nathan Ross was also disappointing in his second game at fullback, as Brown questioned whether the changes in the spine could have affected the team’s attack.

“Our attack struggled,” Brown said.

“There were some blokes in key positions whose performances really fluctuated a lot which probably didn’t help.

“It was clearly our worst attacking performance for a long time. Why that was? You can’t just blame that one player.”

The loss could have come at a cost for the Knights, after winger Ken Sio injured his shoulder and did not return.

Tough questions await Collingwood in AFL

Many questions remain for Collingwood after their AFL finals hopes were all but extinguished with a 24-point loss to Hawthorn.

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Are the Magpies a good enough team to make the finals? Can they do it without significant list changes?

And is Nathan Buckley the right man for the job?

A top-eight finish is increasingly unlikely this season, with Sunday’s 18.10 (118) to 14.10 (94) defeat to Hawthorn at the MCG condemning the Magpies to the bottom four with a 5-9 record.

The Pies have a horror run to end the season with five of their remaining eight games coming against current top-eight sides.

Buckley’s post-game message was clear: this is a developing side that deserves time to reach its potential.

The Pies coach – who earlier in the year linked his survival to the Pies making the finals – reeled off the names of a dozen young regulars who had yet to reach their prime.

“All of those players will improve, and they all have to improve for us to improve as a team – then 5-9 turns into 9-5,” Buckley said.

“The reality is we are a side coming from a fair way back, with youth, to try and grow and develop.

“We haven’t met expectations in regards to our progress and our growth. Do we just pack up, do we just give up on it?

“Maybe this is part of the journey they need to go through to realise how tough the comp is, and how quickly 5-9 can come about when they don’t take their chances.”

Former Melbourne coach Paul Roos on Sunday took aim at the Magpies’ “appalling” list management in recent seasons.

The decision to hand big deals to injury-prone midfielder Daniel Wells and fringe forward Chris Mayne during the off-season raised eyebrows.

However, two of the Magpies’ best players this year – midfielder Adam Treloar and half-back flanker Jeremy Howe – both arrived via trades,

Jordan De Goey’s best-afield performance against the Hawks meanwhile suggests there’s cause for optimism about the next generation.

But the key question remains whether the Pies will stick with Buckley if they’re unable to pull off a miracle and go a fourth consecutive season without making the finals.

Johnston blames trainer for missed record

South Sydney flyer Alex Johnston has revealed a team trainer was responsible after he narrowly missed out on a club record six-try haul in their demolition of Penrith on Sunday.

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Johnston put in one of the most memorable individual performances of the NRL season as he ran in five tries in the seven-tries-to-two rout.

He fell agonisingly short of setting a new record for the foundation club after on several occasions missing out on a sixth four-pointer.

“They were looking for me,” Johnston said cheekily.

“There was one time when our trainer came on, Benny Gardiner is his name. I want to quote his name because he told me to go to the middle to look for it and the ball went out to where it should have been and I wasn’t there.

“I’m a bit off him at the moment.”

On another occasion Johnston was denied by the video referees after Tyrell Fuimaono knocked on in the lead up.

Had he crossed for a sixth, he would have been the first player to achieve the feat in a premiership match since Newtown’s Jack Troy in 1950.

Instead he will have to be satisfied with sharing the Rabbitohs club record with Nathan Merritt, Eric Sladden, Ian Moir, Johnny Graves, Don Manson, Alan Quinlivan and Harold Horder.

“I didn’t know if it was a record or anything,” Johston said.

“I was just pumped, I scored five, I was keeping count all game.

“I was like ‘come on, pass it to me, one more, one more, give me one more’. To equal the club record, Merritt scored five as well, is pretty special.”

The try-scoring rampage took his season tally to 15 and moved him ahead of Canberra’s Jordan Rapana and Melbourne’s Suliasi Vunivalu to the top of the competition try-scorer list.

He said it was his biggest bag of tries since he first strapped on a pair of boots 13 years ago.

“Not since under 9s, my first year playing,” he said when asked if he’d ever scored five.

“Back then I used to run around everyone, it was pretty easy.

“They made it easy for me out there tonight, the boys, just giving me some good ball.”

SCORING A HANDFUL BAG

Five try hauls by South Sydney players:

* Alex Johnston v Penrith, ANZ Stadium, Round 17, 2017

* Nathan Merritt v Parramatta, ANZ Stadium, Round 22, 2011

* Eric Sladden v Parramatta, Cumberland Oval, Round 16, 1957

* Ian Moir v Parramatta, Redfern Oval, Round 7, 1957

* Johnny Graves v Eastern Suburbs, Redfern Oval, Round 14, 1949

* Don Manson v University, Sports Ground, Round 1, 1937

* Alan Quinlivan v University, Earl Park, Roundd 9, 1936

* Harold Horder v North Sydney, RAS Sydney Showground, Round 12, 1917

* Harold Horder v North Sydney, RAS Sydney Showground, Round 5, 1917

Queensland has no issue with DCE: Cronk

Queensland halfback Cooper Cronk insists there are no issues between Daly Cherry-Evans and senior members of the Maroons team.

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Cherry-Evans was one of three players to assert their push for the Maroons No.6 jersey in the last round of NRL before Queensland name their side for next week’s decider.

After Cameron Munster starred in Melbourne’s 42-12 win over Brisbane on Friday night, Cherry-Evans responded with two try assists in Manly’s come-from-behind 26-22 victory over the Warriors in Perth.

Maroons utility Michael Morgan also scored twice in North Queensland’s 31-18 win over Canberra, as the race to replace Johnathan Thurston surely became a three-way battle.

Cherry-Evans’ career-best form has piloted him into contention after Queensland coach Kevin Walters originally failed to name him as a possible replacement for Thurston.

The Maroons mentor was later forced to deny reports the Manly captain could be overlooked because he doesn’t get along with Maroons teammates.

Cronk became the latest to rubbish those suggestions on Saturday night.

“I’m a little bit disappointed with the articles that have been written about Daly,” he told Fox Sports

“All the senior players have got a great working relationship on and off the field with him.

“He’s been part of the Queensland set-up before and he’s contributed off that bench role on a number of occasions.”

Cherry-Evans’ performance came after Queensland selector Darren Lockyer wrote in a column on Saturday he required a man-of-the-match performance to give his best chance of reclaiming his Origin jersey.

The 28-year-old has lost both games he has started for the Maroons, but Lockyer insisted his cards had not been marked by the selectors.

Cronk said he believes the Manly No.7 is a different player to the one who last played Origin in 2015.

“He’s taken his game to another level this year, he’s playing career-best football,” Cronk said.

It is possible all three could work their way into the Maroons’ 17-man squad when it is announced on Monday.

Walters has previously floated the idea of playing Munster at centre for the injured Darius Boyd, which could leave Morgan and Cherry-Evans to fill the five-eighth and bench utility roles.

Damascus car bombing attacks leave 20 dead

The authorities said it was one of three car bombs that were meant to be blown up in crowded areas of the capital on Sunday, the first day back to work from the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

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Security forces pursued and destroyed the other two.

Officials said the bombers had been prevented from reaching their intended targets, otherwise the casualty toll would have been higher.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Damascus was hit by two separate, multiple suicide bomb attacks in March, one of them claimed by Islamic State and the other by the Islamist insurgent alliance Tahrir al-Sham.

A Syrian boy stands next to the cordoned off area at the site of a suicide bomb attack in the capital Damascus’ eastern Tahrir Square district, July 2, 2017. AFP

In a letter to the UN secretary general and the head of the security council, the foreign ministry said the blast that killed 20 people in the Bab Touma area near the Old City had also wounded dozens of women and children.

State media said the bomber had been spotted and pursued by the security forces and set off the bomb after he had been encircled in the area.

Damascus has enjoyed relative security in recent years even as the six-year-long civil war has raged on in nearby areas.

Footage broadcast by state TV from the blast that caused the fatalities near the Old City showed roads scattered with debris, several badly damaged cars, and another one that had been turned into a pile of twisted metal.

Footage from another of the blast sites showed what appeared to be the remains of a person and badly damaged vehicles outside a mosque in the Baytara traffic circle near the Old City.

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On March 15, two suicide bomb attacks in Damascus killed several dozen people, most of them at the Palace of Justice courthouse near the Old City. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.

On March 11, a double suicide attack in the capital killed scores of people, most of them Iraqi Shi’ite pilgrims. That attack was claimed by the Tahrir al-Sham alliance of Islamist insurgents, which is spearheaded by a jihadist group formerly known as the Nusra Front.

Syrian government forces, which have defeated rebel fighters in several suburbs of Damascus over the last year, are currently battling insurgents in the Jobar and Ain Tarma areas on the capital’s eastern outskirts.

A rebel group accused the army of using chlorine gas in the fighting on Saturday. The army denied the claim as fabrications.

UK SAS accused of killing unarmed civilians in Afghanistan

Claims that “rogue” Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers killed unarmed Afghan civilians in cold blood and attempted to cover up the evidence should be probed in an independent inquiry, British Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn says.

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He said there was a risk the British armed forces’ reputation for decency and bravery would be undermined unless the claims in the Sunday Times were investigated.

According to the newspaper, which quoted senior military police and defence sources, there is “strong evidence” SAS personnel killed rather than captured unarmed Afghan civilians who were suspected of being Taliban insurgents during night raids on their homes.

The allegations emerged in Operation Northmoor, a Royal Military Police (RMP) investigation, the Sunday Times reported.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the RMP found no evidence of criminal behaviour by British armed forces in Afghanistan to date.

In February, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon announced 90 per cent of the probe’s misconduct cases involving British troops who served in Afghanistan were to be dropped, amid controversy over a discredited probe into Iraq war veterans.

Commenting on the claims, Corbyn said: “The allegations of unlawful killings and war crimes in Afghanistan are extremely serious and must be fully investigated.

“Our armed forces have a reputation for decency and bravery. If we do not act on such shocking allegations we risk undermining that reputation, our security at home and the safety of those serving in the armed forces abroad.”

Corbyn said there could be no question of a cover-up and the government must establish an independent inquiry into the claims.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the Royal Military Police had found no evidence of criminal behaviour by the armed forces in Afghanistan but where allegations were raised it was right they were investigated.

Pope expresses sympathy for baby Charlie

Pope Francis has expressed sympathy for the parents of Charlie Gard, a 10-month-old infant in Britain with irreversible brain damage who will be taken off life support in the coming days after his parents lost a legal battle over his treatment.

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“The Holy Father follows with affection and emotion the case of baby Charlie Gard,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said.

“He prays for (Charlie’s parents), wishing that their desire to accompany and care for their own child until the end will be respected,” Burke said.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates were prevented by doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London from taking the infant, widely known as Baby Charlie, to a therapy trial in the US. Their son suffers from a rare genetic condition that causes progressive muscle weakness and brain damage.

Specialists at the hospital had said the therapy proposed by a US doctor is experimental and will not help, and that life support for the child should be stopped.

Britain’s Supreme Court had upheld lower court judgements saying that the infant’s life support should be ended so that he could die with dignity.

On Friday, the hospital granted the infant extra time on life support but is expected to turn off life-sustaining treatment in the coming days.

On Friday a picture of the couple sleeping on either side of their son in hospital was posted on their Twitter account alongside the hashtags #jesuisCharlieGard #charliesfight #letcharliegohome.

They said they had been denied their final wish to be able to take their son home to die and felt “let down” after losing their legal fight.

Charlie’s plight has touched many people and the family received donations totalling more than GBP1.3 million ($A2.2 million) to take him to the US for therapy.

Windies surprise India in fourth ODI

The West Indies could yet salvage a draw in their one-day series against India following a thrilling 11-run win in the fourth international in Antigua.

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India appeared on course for a third straight win after restricting their hosts to 9-189, but the Windies fought back to bowl the tourists out for 178.

They now trail 2-1 in the five-match series with one remaining.

West Indies pace bowler and skipper Jason Holder took 5-27 as India, who required 20 from the final 20 balls, lost their last four wickets for 19 runs.

MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja appeared to be in control with their side 6-173 in the 48th over.

But Holder had Jadeja caught by Rovman Powell for 11 and for the addition of four more runs Dhoni was caught by Alzarri Joseph off Kesrick Williams for 54.

Holder then skittled out Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami as India fell short.

“Extremely pleased with the guys,” Man-of-the-Match Holder said in an on-field interview.

“It took a big effort. Credit must go to all the bowlers (and) I thought the fielding was very supportive. We knew we could beat India. Just needed some application.”

Earlier, India’s Umesh Yadav (3-36), Hardik Pandya (3-40) and Kuldeep Yadav (2-31) did most to keep the hosts’ batsmen under wraps.

West Indies openers Evin Lewis and Kyle Hope top-scored after both made 35, but wickets fell at regular intervals.

India’s Virat Kohli said they bowled really well but lamented his team’s batting.

“Our shot selection wasn’t up to the mark. It felt a bit two-paced. Apart from that I don’t think there was anything else in the pitch.

“With the bat we faltered and that can happen in this game. We just have to put this behind us and come back fresh for the next game.”

After the first game was abandoned, India won the second and third ODIs by 105 and 93 runs respectively and now head to Jamaica for the final match on July 6.

Iraq battles last of IS fighters in Old Mosul

More than eight months since the operation to retake Mosul was launched, IS has gone from fully controlling the city to holding a few neighbourhoods on its western side.

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“The number is… more or less 300 fighters, most of them of European nationalities, Arabs of other nationalities or of Asian origin,” said Staff Brigadier General Nabil al-Fatlawi, a commander in the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS).

“We are not able to specify when the battles will end because of the narrow type of streets in the Old City and also the presence of civilian detainees,” Fatlawi said, referring to residents being used as human shields by IS.

“But I can say within days,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command announced CTS forces had recaptured the Makawi area of the Old City, in a further blow at the heart of the jihadists’ cross-border “caliphate”.

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Iraqi forces have been closing in on the Old City for months, but its narrow streets and closely spaced buildings combined with a large civilian population made for an extremely difficult fight.

Security forces recaptured a series of nearby districts, cornering the jihadists, and launched an assault inside the Old City on June 18.

They have since made significant progress.

On Saturday, officers announced the recapture of a hospital and its surroundings north of the Old City, removing a nearby but unconnected pocket of IS resistance.

Interior ministry forces recaptured the Ibn Sina hospital along with other medical facilities including a blood bank and a clinic, said Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir Yarallah.

IS has occupied several of Mosul’s hospitals during the battle for the city.

Some security personnel have complained that restrictions on using heavy weapons against hospitals, intended to protect the facilities, have made operations riskier and more time-consuming.

Suicide bombing kills 14

Federal police chief Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat said the area around the hospital, Al-Shifaa, had been completely retaken, limiting IS’s presence in Mosul to the Old City.

“Our forces are advancing from three sides and are pursuing the terrorist groups in the few remaining areas of the Old City,” said Jawdat.

On Thursday, Iraqi forces retook the remains of the Grand Mosque of al-Nuri in their greatest symbolic victory since the battle began.

IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave a triumphal sermon at the mosque after the jihadists captured Mosul in 2014, calling on Muslims to obey him.

The mosque thus became a symbol of Baghdadi’s rule and IS’s “caliphate”.

The jihadists made sure that the Nuri mosque was not captured intact, blowing it up as Iraqi forces closed in, along with its famed leaning minaret — known affectionately as “Al-Hadba” (The Hunchback).

Even though it lies in ruins, the mosque’s recapture has provided a boost to Iraq’s forces and its government. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the jihadists’ “caliphate” was coming to an end.

The next day, a senior Iraqi commander said victory in Mosul would be declared within the “next few days”.

0:00 Iraqi army blames IS for Mosul mosque destruction Share Iraqi army blames IS for Mosul mosque destruction

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition air strikes have since regained much of the territory they lost.

The recapture of Mosul will not however mark the end of the war against IS.

The jihadist group holds territory elsewhere in Iraq as well as in neighbouring Syria, and has been able to carry out attacks in government-held areas.

The jihadist group has also inspired “lone wolf” attacks overseas.

Highlighting the major security challenges Iraq will face after Mosul, a suicide bomber attacked a camp for displaced people west of Baghdad on Sunday, killing 14 people and wounding 13, a police major and a doctor said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Anbar province, but IS frequently carries out suicide bombings against civilians in Iraq.

The camp is located west of Ramadi, a city that was recaptured from IS along with Fallujah and other parts of Anbar province, but IS still controls areas closer to the Syrian border and carries out attacks in government-held territory.