ISIS fight­ers push vil­lagers to Mo­sul ahead of show­down

Res­i­dents: Mil­i­tants plan to use civil­ians as human shields

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Susannah Ge­orge and Joseph Krauss

QAYARA, Iraq — Is­lamic State mil­i­tants have been go­ing door to door in vil­lages south of Mo­sul, or­der­ing peo­ple at gun­point on a miles-long trek into the city and us­ing them as human shields as the ex­trem­ists pre­pare to de­fend it from Iraqi forces, ac­cord­ing to res­i­dents swept up in the forced evac­u­a­tions.

Wit­nesses de­scribed scenes of chaos over the past week as hun­dreds of peo­ple were or­dered out of their homes with­out hav­ing time to pack and driven north across the Ninevah plains to­ward the heav­ily-for­ti­fied city, where mil­i­tants have been pre­par­ing for a show­down.

“IS took all of us from our homes at gun­point and told us they were tak­ing us with them to Mo­sul,” Ahmed Bi­lal Har­ish said Wed­nes­day, us- ing an acro­nym for the group, also called ISIS. “They said if you don’t come with us you’re an un­be­liever.”

He said he and his fam­ily were only able to es­cape when a vol­ley of airstrikes caused the fight­ers to scat­ter dur­ing the 25-mile march from their home in the town of Shura to Mo­sul.

“We had two choices: We could be killed by Daesh or die along the way, so we ran,” he said, us­ing an Ara­bic acro­nym for ISIS. The fam­ily is now liv­ing in a camp for those dis­placed by the fight­ing in an area un­der gov­ern­ment con­trol.

Other Shura res­i­dents also de­scribed be­ing forcibly re­lo­cated to Mo­sul over the week­end. The mil­i­tants only gave peo­ple a few min­utes to leave and said any strag­glers risked be­ing pun­ished for hid­ing out and try­ing to join the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces.

One fam­ily was forced to leave their home in the mid­dle of a meal, and an­other lost track of two rel­a­tives dur­ing the melee and have not seen them since. At least one vil­lager died of a heart at­tack on the road, they said. Dis­placed Iraqis wait for a ride at a check­point in Qayara, some 31 miles south of Mo­sul, one of Iraq’s largest cities. Iraqi forces have been push­ing to­ward Mo­sul since Oct. 17.

The dis­placed res­i­dents spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of fears for their safety while liv­ing un­der ISIS rule in Mo­sul.

Brig. Gen. Alaa Mehsin, of the Iraqi army’s 15th Di­vi­sion, said ISIS mil­i­tants were pulling back to bol­ster their de­fenses in Mo­sul ahead of the com­ing Iraqi of­fen­sive to re­take the city.

He said mil­i­tants were tak­ing hun­dreds of civil­ians as human shields and had planted ex­plo­sive booby­traps to slow ad­vanc­ing troops.

“Th­ese small vil­lages are se­condary to them. Mo­sul is much more im­por­tant,” Mehsin said as he strode be­tween maps in an op­er­a­tions cen­ter in Qayara, one of the main stag­ing bases for the of­fen­sive. “They don’t want to waste their en­ergy.”

The U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Human Rights says ISIS fight­ers have been sweep­ing through towns and vil­lages to the south of Mo­sul over the past week, killing those they fear may rise up against them and forcibly re­lo­cat­ing oth­ers.

In one vil­lage south of Mo­sul, Iraqi forces found the bod­ies of 70 res­i­dents who had been gunned down, and ISIS ap­pears to have killed 50 for­mer Iraqi po­lice of­fi­cers it was hold­ing in a build­ing near the city, Ru­pert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. agency, told re­porters in Geneva.

He said the U.N. has re­ceived re­ports of the mil­i­tants gun­ning down 15 vil­lagers south of Mo­sul and throw­ing their bod­ies in a river. An­other six vil­lagers were tied to the back of a car and dragged through the street be­cause they were re­lated to a tribal leader bat­tling ISIS, Colville said.

He said the mil­i­tants gunned down three women and three girls be­cause they were lag­ging be­hind as the ex­trem­ists drove peo­ple into an­other dis­trict south of Mo­sul. He said they fell be­hind be­cause one of the girls was disabled.

“We very much fear that th­ese will not be the last such re­ports we re­ceive of such bar­baric acts,” he said.

Iraqi forces have been push­ing to­ward Mo­sul from sev­eral di­rec­tions since the op­er­a­tion be­gan Oct. 17. It is ex­pected to take weeks, if not months, to re­take Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city, which fell to the ex­trem­ists in days when they swept across north­ern and cen­tral Iraq in the sum­mer of 2014.

Over the past two days, Iraqi spe­cial forces have moved more than 1,000 peo­ple out of vil­lages east of Mo­sul that were re­cently re­taken from the ex­trem­ists and into a nearby camp for their safety. The In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion says some 9,000 peo­ple have been dis­placed since the Mo­sul op­er­a­tion be­gan.

The spe­cial forces said they were un­der­tak­ing cleanup op­er­a­tions be­fore they re­sume their push to­ward the city.

Maj. Salam al-Obeidi said they had found an ex­ten­sive tun­nel net­work built by the mil­i­tants to shut­tle fight­ers and sup­plies by motorcycle.

The U.S. mil­i­tary, which is pro­vid­ing airstrikes and ground sup­port for the of­fen­sive, es­ti­mates that 3,000 to 5,000 ISIS fight­ers are de­fend­ing the city, with an­other 1,500 to 2,500 in the outer belts.


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