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Families' elation as Iraqi town liberated from hands of Islamic State after more than two years

ITV News was with Iraqi troops the moment they finally liberated a town held captive by so-called Islamic State for more than two years.

The areas controlled by IS in Iraq are rapidly shrinking with the city of Mosul its last main stronghold.

Senior International Correspondent John Irvine captured the moment the 15,000 citizens of Qayyarah first realised they had been freed.

The oil fires created a sinister atmosphere, while the destruction and charred bodies did the rest – we felt were driving into a hellish place.

Artillery shells, tank fire, booby-traps and air strikes had levelled the entrance to the town and we were heading for the centre.

It was post-apocalyptic and logic said the place had to be deserted, but it wasn’t.

Charred remains of the town were left by IS Credit: ITV News
Qayyarah is not far from IS stronghold Mosul Credit: ITV News

Down an alley we spotted a father holding the hands of two young sons. At first hesitant, soon all three were waving to us.

We were part of a column of Iraqi Army Humvees and armoured personnel carriers.

Our arrival signalled to the residents of Qayyarah that their liberation was at hand.

Soon hundreds were jubilant on main street.

These were people who so-called Islamic State had held captive in the town. They had endured two years of tyranny and weeks of warfare.

Qayyarah is a town of 15,000 people Credit: ITV News

They were smiling, cheering and singing.

“This is our victorious day", one old man told me. “Daesh have been kicked out of town".

“At last we can relax. And it feels great to be clean shaven again,” said a younger man, who like most had just shaved off the beard he’d been forced to grow.

So-called Islamic State lost hundreds of fighters defending Qayyarah Credit: ITV News

The women were reluctant to leave the homes in which IS had forced them to stay.

At her front door I asked one young wife why she still wore the veil.

“It’s a two year old habit I’ll find hard to break", she replied.

Qayyarah is the biggest victory so far in the Iraqi Army’s campaign to re-take Mosul. The town is 35 miles south-east of Iraq’s second city.

As we left we saw people rarely seen in Iraq these days – American soldiers.

In huge armoured vehicles they were crossing the River Tigris to set up a new forward base from which to oversee the next stage of the advance.

Many problems lie ahead, but in Qayyarah the Iraqi Army had a victory to savour.

IS propaganda seen on a billboard Credit: ITV News