Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani on Friday said an Iraqi military victory over Islamic State was imminent, since the country started a campaign to drive the radical Sunni militia from Mosul.

Abdel-Mahdi al-Karbali, who represented Al- Sistani, said in a sermon at a mosque in Karbala.

“Confidence grows in the ability and will of the Armed Forces and their supporters in achieving a final victory that is not distant,” al-Sistani said.

Al-Sistani called on Iraqi forces to protect civilians from bombings carried out by Islamic State in the country.

In mid-October, government forces, backed by a U.S.-led air coalition and Kurdish fighters, started a long-awaited offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State.

The militants are believed to be holding thousands of Iraqis in and around Mosul to use them as human shields.

Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city has been under Islamic State’s control since mid-2014.

In an attempt to slow down Iraqi forces’ Mosul mission, Islamic State fighters have mounted a series of counter-attacks and suicide bombings in different parts of the country.

The UN said on Thursday that a total of 2,885 Iraqis, including 1,959 security personnel, were killed due to terrorism, violence and armed conflict in Iraq in November.