Iraq News

ISIS turns on civilians as Mosul battle nears end

By Khalid al-Taie

Residents of west Mosul flee the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' under the protection of Iraqi forces. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service]

Residents of west Mosul flee the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' under the protection of Iraqi forces. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service]

As the battle for Mosul nears its end, civilians in the last remaining areas under "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) control are coming under increasing pressure, city residents and officials tell Diyaruna.

When Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces stormed al-Warshan in west Mosul on May 19th and announced its liberation, the remaining ISIS fighters fled for Mosul's Old City.

Before leaving, however, the group filled the alleys of the neighbourhood with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) set for detonation.

Al-Warshan resident Omar Rashid, 56, said that ISIS fighters had planted explosives under the doors of people's homes to prevent them from escaping.

He saw the consequences of this action with his own eyes, he told Diyaruna.

Two men were killed, and two children and three women were injured, he said, when an IED blew up as they were attempting to leave their home and escape, just hours before the neighbourhood was liberated.

Human shields

"The gunmen had been using houses where people live as centres for storing weapons and making mines and IEDs," Rashid said. "They booby-trapped side-streets and deployed car bombs everywhere in order to hinder the military units’ advance and target fleeing families."

"They threatened to shoot us if we tried to escape, and when they moved between neighbourhoods, they would take local people with them to hide behind," he added.

"A few days before the liberation they brought several families from the areas of al-Zanjili, Khazra and the Old City to our neighbourhood," he said.

"They were human shields."

Meanwhile, living conditions deteriorated dramatically.

"We almost starved to death after we ran out of food supplies," Rashid said. "All that we had left was a little flour, while we could see the terrorists eating meat, rice and fruit."

He expressed his relief to be rid of the group, noting that "despite the suffering we have experienced, our joy of getting rid of ISIS cannot be described".

Excessive force

Iraqi forces have recovered most of Mosul's western neighbourhoods and are close to completing the operation to liberate the city, local officials said.

The fighting is currently confined to a small area in the heart of the city, they told Diyaruna, where the remaining ISIS fighters are trying to resist by making heavy use of explosives and tightening the siege on civilians.

"The enemy is now booby-trapping almost everything and deploying explosives on streets and everywhere in order to target those trying to leave and impede our forces’ advance," said Ninawa operations command spokesman Brig. Gen. Firas Bashar Sabri.

ISIS has turned buildings, private homes and even mosques into weapons caches and IED and mine-making workshops, he told Diyaruna, adding that the group also has been "stealing cars from houses and booby trapping them".

"The tighter the noose gets around the terrorists’ necks, the more barbaric and evil they become," Sabri said.

The liberating forces "have sufficient expertise and equipment" to sweep streets and sites where explosives have been planted and to target the vehicles of would-be suicide bombers, he said.

ISIS seeks to cause as many casualties as possible, Sabri said, "but we will not allow them to do so".

ISIS under fire

ISIS is under fire from all directions and will not be able to hold out for much longer, said CTS spokesman Brig. Gen. Sabah al-Numan.

"The group is losing a part of the city every day and retreating with fewer fighters and weapons," he told Diyaruna.

Yet ISIS continues to booby-trap roads and residences in its areas of control, and to launch suicide operations and indiscriminate attacks, he said.

Faced with defeat, ISIS also has been setting fire to private generators and public and private property and sabotaging sewage networks, al-Numan said.

"These are all the confrontation tactics the terrorists have; holding residents, targeting them, and now trying to burn everything they can lay their hands on," Mosul district council head Basma Basim told Diyaruna.

Some displaced residents report that ISIS elements have forced them to hand over their car keys so their vehicles can be used as barricades or burned in order to make smoke, for masking purposes, she said.

In addition to planting explosives and booby-trapping areas frequented by civilians, she said, ISIS snipers have targeted civilians, or have hidden behind them during clashes or while moving from one neighbourhood to another.

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