Iraqi Spe­cial Forces screen Mo­sul men in hunt for sui­cide bombers

Nearly 40,000 wanted men in Iraq

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

One by one, hun­dreds of Mo­sul res­i­dents raised their shirts to prove they did not have sui­cide bombs strapped to their bod­ies, closely watched by Iraqi Spe­cial Forces fear­ful of the threat posed by Is­lamic State, even in ar­eas they now con­trol. The men then handed over their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards so their names could be checked against a data­base of wanted Is­lamic State mem­bers, part of the painstak­ing process of clear­ing ji­hadists from each neigh­bor­hood of their Mo­sul strong­hold.

Ev­ery time Iraqi forces cap­ture a sec­tion of Mo­sul in their of­fen­sive against Is­lamic State, it can take up to a week to en­sure it is clear of mil­i­tants. Some hide in the net­work of tun­nels they have con­structed, while others mix with thou­sands of dis­placed peo­ple or stay be­hind to form sleeper cells in the crowded neigh­bor­hoods of Mo­sul, a city of more than one mil­lion peo­ple.

Iraqi se­cu­rity of­fi­cials say they have seized a large area of east­ern Mo­sul in the big­gest ground op­er­a­tion in the coun­try since the USled in­va­sion that top­pled Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003. Iraqi lead­ers hope the Mo­sul cam­paign will bring sta­bil­ity af­ter years of sec­tar­ian blood­shed fol­lowed by the ar­rival of Is­lamic State, an ul­tra-hard­line Sunni group, in 2014. While the Iraqis seem con­fi­dent of vic­tory, the se­cu­rity clamp-down in the Shuqaq Al-Khadra’a dis­trict of Mo­sul sug­gests Is­lamic State still poses a threat even as it loses ter­ri­tory.

Iraqi spe­cial forces were on pa­trol when their in­tel­li­gence divi­sion heard from lo­cal peo­ple that Is­lamic State mil­i­tants were still in the area. Spe­cial forces and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials or­dered res­i­dents to gather at a square with their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments. “Lift up your shirt now,” one of­fi­cer yelled at a man, acutely aware that sui­cide bombers are one of Is­lamic State’s most ef­fec­tive weapons.

The res­i­dents, many with beards of the size re­quired by Is­lamic State, sat in rows as their names were called. From time to time, a mor­tar bomb ex­ploded nearby or shoot­ing rang out. Sit­ting at com­put­ers, spe­cial forces of­fi­cers com­pared the names on iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards to a long list of wanted men. “There are about 39,000 wanted men in Iraq,” said Mo­hamed Ali, a Na­tional Se­cu­rity of­fi­cer. About 80 per­cent, he added, are “ter­ror­ists”, the term Iraqi of­fi­cials use to de­scribe Is­lamic State and other mil­i­tants. As iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards were handed over, se­nior in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial Hus­sein Za’alan lec­tured the men sit­ting on the ground about the “evils” of Is­lamic State, hop­ing they would pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on the mil­i­tants.

“They brought for­eign fight­ers, crim­i­nals to this coun­try,” he said. “They just take women, im­preg­nate them.” An­other of­fi­cer also sought to win the trust of the res­i­dents of pre­dom­i­nantly Sunni Mo­sul, where Is­lamic State won sup­port ini­tially be­cause of wide­spread dis­con­tent with the Shi’ite-led govern­ment in Bagh­dad. “We need your co­op­er­a­tion. Don’t be scared. Re­move fear from your hearts. Daesh is fin­ished,” he said, us­ing a deroga­tory Ara­bic acro­nym to de­scribe Is­lamic State. “Look what they do. They turn your young chil­dren into sui­cide bombers.”

The of­fi­cer didn’t have to look far to see how easy it is for Is­lamic State to re­cruit young Iraqis. Omar Ab­dul­lah, 51, one of the men be­ing pro­cessed, sat be­side his 16-year-old son, Ibrahim. The teenager at­tended Is­lamic State in­doc­tri­na­tion lec­tures on re­li­gion for 10 days be­fore Ab­dul­lah man­aged to per­suade him to leave the group. But he was not so lucky with an­other son, who is an Is­lamic State fighter in the nearby city of Tal Afar. “He wanted to get mar­ried but he didn’t have the money be­cause times are tough,” said Ab­dul­lah. “Daesh brain­washed him, gave him money and promised him vir­gins in heaven. I lost my son.”

An el­derly man who did not im­me­di­ately ad­mit his son had joined Is­lamic State was chas­tised in front of the group. “You lied to me. You are Is­lamic State,” a Spe­cial Forces of­fi­cer shouted. As in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials lec­tured the men, some res­i­dents iden­ti­fied one of those in the square as an Is­lamic State mem­ber. With a hood put over his head, he was hand­cuffed and ques­tioned. “Talk, talk,” yelled an in­ter­roga­tor.

“We are in­ves­ti­gat­ing. He could be Daesh, or the peo­ple that rat­ted him out may just have some­thing against him and are try­ing to get him in trou­ble,” he told Reuters. Four more sus­pected ji­hadists sat ner­vously in a room, await­ing their turn. — Reuters

WABERI: So­mali sol­diers walk through the wreck­age af­ter a car bomb that tar­geted a po­lice sta­tion in the Waberi neigh­bor­hood. — AP

MO­SUL: Iraqi Spe­cial Forces sol­diers, take their po­si­tions on a rooftop, dur­ing a bat­tle against the Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, in the Bakr front line neigh­bor­hood, in Mo­sul. — AP

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