A year after Iraqi forces liberated the western side of the Salaheddine province city of al-Sharqat from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), thousands of civilians remain trapped in the eastern side of the city.
The group's siege on the eastern part of the city, on the eastern bank of the Tigris river, has led to food scarcity and rocketing prices for the approximately 25,000 civilians trapped there, local officials told Diyaruna.
Each day that a liberation offensive is delayed, they said, the suffering of civilians is compounded, as in addition to facing a potential famine, residents have faced an escalation of violence from ISIS elements in the area.
"After the western side was restored about a year ago, we expected the military units to move to the eastern side, but this did not happen," al-Sharqat mayor Ali Dawdah told Diyaruna.
The eastern side of the city, which comprises 30 neighbourhoods and villages, remains under ISIS control, he said.
"The terrorists' siege of the population caused most of the food items to run out in markets," Dawdah said, with available goods selling at extortionate prices.
ISIS snipers have targeted civilians in the city's eastern neighbourhoods, he said, and have indiscriminately fired rockets into these areas.
Dawdah said ISIS has been using eastern al-Sharqat as a safe corridor to reach al-Hawija, noting that on July 5th, ISIS attacked the village of Imam Gharbi, which lies between al-Sharqat and al-Qayyarah district in Ninawa province to the south of Mosul.
"Terrorist attackers moved dozens of villagers, mostly women, to eastern al-Sharqat, and then they were transported to al-Hawija, where women were sold as slaves," he said.
Iraqi and coalition forces on July 17th and 18th killed at least 40 ISIS elements holed up in the village, which was fully liberated on July 20th.
ISIS fighters "transferred the bodies of their dead to eastern al-Sharqat for burial", Dawdah said.
Local residents await liberation
ISIS has been exploiting the delay of the liberation offensive to deepen its influence in the area, especially after its defeat in Mosul, said eastern al-Sharqat district director Wasmi al-Sohn.
During its attack on Imam Gharbi, ISIS took about 30 families from the village to eastern al-Sharqat, he told Diyaruna.
"The militants executed three of the kidnapped men, one of whom was a security officer we identified through photographs and recordings posted by terrorists online, and the other two are likely to be civilians," he said.
Al-Sohn said these incidents "indicate the seriousness of the situation and the growing threats", adding that ISIS carries out almost daily detentions and executions.
"People also are threatened with famine," he said, adding that many people have been eating only what they have been able to grow in their own gardens.
"Everything has become expensive," he said, adding that ISIS elements have claimed what little remaining food there is for themselves.
Salaheddine provincial council security committee member Adnan al-Faraji called on the Iraqi government to move quickly to oust ISIS from al-Sharqat.
"The situation in eastern al-Sharqat is going from bad to worse," he told Diyaruna, with residents facing shortages of food, illness and oppression.
The area has become an ISIS stronghold, he said, stressing that "their activities should be defeated by imposing full control on al-Sharqat".