As "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) elements flee the Iraqi battlefronts, many have sought refuge in the Kirkuk province town of al-Hawija, a local official tells Diyaruna.
Now they are seeking to fortify the area against the Iraqi forces, by booby trapping the main roads leading to the town, according to Kirkuk provincial council member Burhan al-Assi.
ISIS fighters have planted mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along the three main roads that lead to al-Hawija, which connect it to the cities of Kirkuk, Tikrit and al-Sharqat, al-Assi told Diyaruna on Monday (June 19th).
The move intends to block anticipated military operations to drive the group out of the town, he said, "especially as the retaking of all city of Mosul territory draws near".
As ISIS fighters flee combat zones and the Iraqi forces, al-Hawija has become an "alternative headquarters" for them, al-Assi said.
The group is "trying to make it a main safe haven" in the wake of the losses it has suffered, he added.
Approximately 4,000 ISIS fighters are in the town at present, he estimated -- a much larger number than before the start of the battles to liberate Salaheddine, Anbar and Ninawa provinces.
In addition to blocking anticipated military operations, ISIS has been mining the roads to prevent residents from fleeing the town, he said, so it can use them as human shields against Iraqi ground forces and coalition airstrikes.
Civilians trapped inside the town have been subjected to harsh treatment at the hands of ISIS, al-Assi said, adding that the group is meting out "harsh collective punishment against them under various pretexts to heighten their fear".
"The situation for the besieged residents is catastrophic and intolerable," he said, noting that there also has been a shortage of food in the town.
Earlier this week, the group ambushed and shot dead 30 people, including children and women, as they attempted to flee the town, al-Assi said.
"Nary a day goes by without people getting tortured or arrested," he said, adding that on Sunday, the group broke the legs of four youth with rocks, "just because they found cell phones in their possession".