As the fight to retake Mosul from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) draws near, the group's elements have started rigging Mosul airport and surrounding areas with explosives to hinder the advance of Iraqi forces, officials told Diyaruna.
ISIL fears the airport, located about five kilometres south of the city centre, is the next target for Iraqi forces after they regained the strategic area of al-Qayyara in late August, they said.
ISIL elements rigged Mosul airport with explosives in a pre-emptive move, said Mahmoud al-Surji, spokesman for the National Mobilisation Forces in Ninawa province, a local force comprising Mosul natives.
"They planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the airport’s courtyards and buildings and along the roads leading to it," he said.
"They placed large amounts of concrete and iron rubble on the runways to prevent military forces from landing and taking off from this vital facility, and using it as a launch pad towards the centre of Mosul," he added.
ISIL elements also planted explosives in surrounding areas and villages, he said, including the strategically located village of Albu Saif, which has a high hill that oversees Mosul.
"The terrorists booby trapped all bridges that connect the two sides of the city, known as the right and left banks, and external highways, to impede the army’s advance," al-Surji said.
They have also evacuated the residents of villages north of al-Qayyara in the al-Shoura and Hammam al-Alil areas "to fortify their defensive lines around Mosul", he added.
At least 10,000 displaced people now "live out in the open under the scorching sun without the most basic life necessities", he said.
Mosul residents await
"The terrorists have lost all the elements of their strength and their ability to manoeuver and attack, and have resorted to booby trapping in a desperate attempt to stay in Mosul as long as possible," he said.
"But they will soon meet their demise," he added, "regardless of what preparations the militants have made."
"There is anger and resentment toward ISIL inside the city," he said. "All residents are waiting for the security forces to arrive to back them and support the great liberation battle."
In last Friday's sermon at Mosul's Grand Mosque , the preacher asked the worshipers to volunteer in ISIL’s ranks, al-Surji said.
"His words fell on deaf ears and no one showed interest in fighting," prompting the preacher to denounce the residents as "cowards", according to al-Surji.
After the liberation of al-Qayyara, images of residents welcoming the liberation forces in celebration were posted on social media.
This is all evidence of the residents’ desire to be rid of ISIL, al-Surji said.
"We hope the momentum of victories continues because the atmosphere is ripe for a final victory," he added.
Strategic importance of airport
ISIL has resorted to rigging Mosul airport with explosives out of fear it is the next target for the military forces after al-Qayyara, given its importance in deciding the outcome of the liberation battle, Ninawa provincial council security committee chairman Hashem Barifkani told Diyaruna.
"ISIL deployed its best fighters to tighten its grip on the airport and surrounding areas, particularly the village of Albu Saif," he said.
But these tactics "will not stop the advance of our forces, which are making great achievements on the battlefronts around Mosul, namely the al-Qayyara, al-Khazer, Tel Eskof and Sinjar fronts", he said.
"The enemy today is trapped inside the city," Barifkani said.
Mosul airport is a strategic target in the battle, and recapturing it means ISIL would lose the city of Mosul, terror groups expert Hisham al-Hashimi told Diyaruna.
"Aerial photographs taken by Iraqi and international coalition military aircraft show that the airport has been seriously damaged and sabotaged by ISIL since it occupied Mosul," he said.
"The operation to regain Mosul will rely on military efforts on the ground by army forces, specifically the 15th and 16th divisions and counter-terrorism forces," he added.
Al-Hashimi said these forces are now headed to liberate the right (west) bank of Mosul, and Kurdish Peshmerga forces are advancing toward the left (east) bank of the city.