Islamic State preparing for long showdown over Mosul

BAGHDAD, Iraq — As the showdown ap­proaches with the Iraqi Army, backed by the Shia-dominated mili­tias and Kurdish Pesh­merga with aerial support by the U.S.-led coalition forces, Islamic State militants are preparing for a protracted war over Mosul.

Residents said trenches were dug around the city and neigh­borhoods on the corners were cleared of residents. All areas on the city border were said to have been booby-trapped.

The residents said those who were removed were taken to com­pounds inside Mosul run by IS and are likely to be used as human shields if the jihadists begin to lose the battle.

“The bottom line is that ISIS is extremely anxious of the coming confrontation, thus, has been mak­ing plans. We can see it digging the trenches,” said Ahmed, a Mosul resident who declined to be identi­fied for fear of reprisal.

He said IS is “clearly nervous, as we can see from its fighters in the streets. If you look at one of them, you’re in trouble. He would walk up to you and start a fight, thinking that you reported him to Iraqi security or that you’re pursu­ing him.”

Another resident, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the number of IS’s foreign jihad­ists in Mosul has diminished over the past few weeks.

“The reason is one of two: Either because EU countries have forbid­den their citizens from traveling to Iraq and Syria and are keeping a closer watch on people leaving,” he said, “Or, it could be because some of the foreigners involved with ISIS, specifically Arabs, are actually drug dealers, who came to Mosul to make financial gains or convicted criminals who found a safe haven in the city.”

As for non-Arab foreigners in Mosul, which IS captured in lightning attack in 2014: “We hear that many of them have already es­caped to Raqqa in Syria with their families.”

“We don’t see any foreigners in Mosul anymore,” said the resident, who explained that non-Arabs stood out in the crowd because many were blond, green-eyed with light-colored skin. “Their accent in Arabic was heavy and we were able to distinguish they weren’t lo­cals.”

Another Mosul resident, who declined to be identified, said IS foreigners have “found a safe ha­ven in Tal Afar and two other vil­lages just outside Mosul.” He said he overheard his cousin, an IS fighter, talking about the plans over the phone.

The Mosul residents spoke in separate interviews, some in text chats or brief calls on social me­dia networks. They all reported a shortage of food, medicine and medical supplies but insisted that it was manageable and that no cas­es of famine have been reported.

Mohammed Shafiq, a journalist working for an Iraqi TV channel, said the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation Forces will be involved in Mosul’s lib­eration.

He said his information came from top government officials, despite opposition by Mosul resi­dents of a force accused of atroci­ties against Iraqi Sunnis in other areas seized back from IS.

The PMF “taking part in the battle over Mosul means that ISIS is assured of a significant loss be­cause al-Hashed al-Shaabi [PMF] will help eliminate the number of militant fighters very quickly as the army advances,” he noted.

Political analyst Fayiz al-Ka­naan said ISis part of Iraq’s po­litical mess, which saw successive Shia-dominated Cabinets shun the Sunnis, who were ostracized after the collapse of Saddam Hus­sein’s regime.

“The real battle against Daesh is the wider political battle in Iraq,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS. “What helped Daesh win and stay in Mosul is a group within the community that allowed it to do that.”

He said the support allowed IS to “build bases and tunnels under­ground, not to mention the gruesome operations that the group carried out, like the execution of prisoners of war, killing and instill­ing fear in the hearts of families as well as the destruction of Iraqi an­tiquities.”

Kanaan maintained that unless the Iraqi government “rebuilds the bridges of trust with the Sun­nis, ends their isolation and incor­porates them into the system, the current violence and stalemate will persist.”

This article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.



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