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.