Ji­hadists ‘shave beards’ as pres­sure builds on Mo­sul

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Is­lamic State group fight­ers were shav­ing their beards and chang­ing hide­outs in Mo­sul, res­i­dents said, as Iraqi forces moved ever closer to the city yes­ter­day and civil­ians fled in grow­ing num­bers. Reached by AFP in­side Mo­sul, sev­eral res­i­dents said the ji­hadists seemed to be pre­par­ing for an as­sault after re­cent ad­vances on the east­ern front brought elite Iraqi forces to within five kilo­me­ters of city lim­its.

“I saw some Daesh (IS) mem­bers and they looked com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the last time I saw them,” said a res­i­dent of east­ern Mo­sul who gave his name as Abu Saif. “They had trimmed their beards and changed their clothes,” the for­mer busi­ness­man said. “They must be scared... they are also prob­a­bly pre­par­ing to es­cape the city.” Res­i­dents and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said many IS fight­ers had re­lo­cated from east­ern Mo­sul to their tra­di­tional bas­tions on the west­ern bank of the Ti­gris river, closer to es­cape routes to Syria.

The sounds of fight­ing on the north­ern and east­ern fronts of the Mo­sul of­fen­sive could now be heard in­side the city, res­i­dents said, and USled coali­tion air­craft were fly­ing lower over the city than usual. Tens of thou­sands of Iraqi fight­ers have been ad­vanc­ing on Mo­sul from the south, east and north after an of­fen­sive was launched on Oc­to­ber 17 to re­take the last ma­jor Iraqi city un­der IS con­trol. The as­sault is be­ing backed with air and ground sup­port from the US-led coali­tion which launched its cam­paign against IS two years ago, shortly after the ji­hadists seized con­trol of large parts of Iraq and Syria.

‘Wave of dis­placed’

Iraqi fed­eral forces, al­lied with Kur­dish pesh­merga fight­ers, have taken a string of towns and vil­lages in a cau­tious but steady ad­vance over the last week in the face of shelling, sniper fire and sui­cide car bomb­ings. Some 3,000 to 5,000 IS fight­ers are be­lieved to be in­side Mo­sul, Iraq’s se­cond city, along­side more than a mil­lion trapped civil­ians. Aid work­ers have warned of a ma­jor po­ten­tial hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis once fight­ing be­gins in­side the city it­self.

An Iraqi min­is­ter said yes­ter­day that more than 3,300 civil­ians flee­ing the fight­ing had sought help from the gov­ern­ment the day be­fore, the most for a sin­gle day so far. There was “a big wave of dis­placed peo­ple that is con­sid­ered the great­est num­ber since the start of the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion to lib­er­ate Nin­eveh prov­ince,” Dis­place­ment and Mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Jassem Mo­hammed al-Jaff said in a state­ment. Num­bers of dis­placed res­i­dents were grow­ing but stood at a rel­a­tively low 8,940 yes­ter­day, ac­cord­ing to a UN tally, be­cause most of the fight­ing so far has taken place in sparsely pop­u­lated ar­eas.

Civil­ians in vil­lages on the east­ern out­skirts of Mo­sul were be­ing bused to a camp near Khazir, an AFP cor­re­spon­dent re­ported. “The army made us get out, they told us to leave and said we would see about the de­tails of our set­tle­ment” in a camp, said Umm Ali, a 35-year-old woman. “We used to live in ter­ror night and day, the shelling was com­ing closer. The Is­lamic State con­trolled our lives, so we de­cided to flee,” said Es­sam Saadou, a 22-year-old stu­dent. A wave of dis­placed res­i­dents was also ex­pected from Al-Shura, an IS strong­hold be­tween Mo­sul and Qay­yarah, the main stag­ing base on the south­ern front, fed­eral po­lice said.

Sights set on Raqa

As the noose tight­ened on Mo­sul, 13 de­fense chiefs from the 60-na­tion coali­tion meet­ing in Paris set their sights on Syria’s Raqa, which would be the last ma­jor city un­der IS con­trol if it loses Mo­sul. “We have al­ready be­gun lay­ing the ground­work for our part­ners to com­mence the iso­la­tion of Raqa,” US De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter said after the talks. The coali­tion-which also in­cludes Bri­tain and France-has pro­vided sup­port in the form of thou­sands of air strikes, train­ing for Iraqi forces and ad­vis­ers on the ground.

France said yes­ter­day it had ex­tended the mis­sion of its air­craft car­rier, the Charles de Gaulle, in the east­ern Mediter­ranean un­til at least mid-De­cem­ber to help the of­fen­sive on Mo­sul. Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande de­cided to ex­tend the mis­sion after France’s de­fense coun­cil “re­viewed the mil­i­tary, hu­man­i­tar­ian, po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity stakes in­volved in the re­cap­ture of Mo­sul,” a state­ment is­sued by his of­fice said. Lead­ers in Paris on Tues­day also dis­cussed the post-IS fu­ture of Mo­sul, which is an eth­ni­cally and re­li­giously mixed re­gion and where achiev­ing a po­lit­i­cal com­pro­mise might prove even harder than a mil­i­tary vic­tory. — AFP

IR­BIL: A cus­tomer gets his beard trimmed at a makeshift bar­ber­shop in­side the Ba­harka camp for dis­placed per­sons on the out­skirts of Ir­bil. — AP

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