Residents of the Anbar province border town of al-Qaim emerge timidly from houses to survey the debris-strewn streets, as Iraqi forces hunt down remaining "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) fighters.
The liberation ends three years in what they describe as an "open-air prison".
"At last we will be able to sleep easily without worrying about air raids or being arrested," says a smiling Qassem Derbi.
"We are no longer afraid of going to prison or anything else."
Iraqi forces on Friday (November 3rd) retook al-Qaim, one of the last ISIS bastions in Iraq.
As Iraqi forces deploy in the streets of al-Qaim, dust-covered not only from the destruction of warfare but also by a sandstorm, Derbi spoke of life under ISIS.
The group entered the important desert town a few kilometres from the border with Syria in 2014, and quickly made its presence felt.
"We were not allowed to use phones, we could not sleep, we had no rights to do anything at all," he says.
"We were living in an open-air prison where we were only allowed to walk around -- anything else would be held against us."
On Sunday, for the first time in more than three years, Iraq's national flag was once again raised in al-Qaim -- by Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi.
Iraq's authorities are now battling the final pockets of extremists in their last footholds around the town.
Across the border in Syria, ISIS is coming under fire from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an Arab-Kurd opposition alliance, and the Syrian regime.
'Oppression and humiliation'
After the ISIS offensive in 2014, Iraq's western desert in Anbar province and its porous border entrenched itself as an extremist smuggling and supply route.
Standing outside his home in al-Qaim, Aqil Mussa speaks of "oppression and humiliation" under ISIS.
"We had access to nothing -- no schools, no electricity, no water. We even lacked bread," he says.
Derbi says that patience paid off for the small number of al-Qaim residents who stayed, out of the 50,000 who lived there before ISIS swept in.
"The security forces have liberated us," he says, adding that the departure of ISIS means the impending return of relatives who had fled their onslaught.
"We have not seen them for months, years in some cases," he says.
"Today, if God wills it, they will return and we will see them again."
Slightly further down the road, a small group of men, some holding white flags, has ventured out into the streets, among the burned out shells of cars ISIS used as bombs.
Other streets are still partly blocked by earthen barricades put up by fighters of the "caliphate" and now crushed by bulldozers of the Iraqi forces.
Children flash the victory sign at troops and soldiers as they pass in the street.
Since ISIS captured nearly a third of Iraq's territory in 2014, Iraqi forces have taken almost all of it back.
Now only the nearby town of Rawa on the Euphrates River and the immediate desert area round it remains in ISIS hands.