As we go to press Iraqi government troops are on the point of entering Mosul in their drive to expel Daesh (Islamic State) from the city. With Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militias operating in the surrounding areas, Mosul is surrounded, leaving Daesh with limited capacity to repel the attack.
50,000 Iraqi soldiers, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni Arab tribesmen and Shia militiamen are now involved in the offensive. Almost 18,000 people have already fled Mosul and the UN believes a further 700,000 will follow. Daesh has increased its violence against the population. Civilians have been taken into the city to be used as human shields. Houses, businesses and household objects including children’s toys have been made into improvised explosive devices. Landmines have been placed around much of the surrounding area. The largest Shia militia, the Hashid Shaabi group, has entered the nearby town of Tal Afar, where there is a substantial Shia presence. This will cut off the supply routes to Mosul.
The militias pledge that they will not enter Mosul itself; both Shia militias and Kurdish Peshmerga are distrusted by Mosul’s majority Sunni population, who fear revenge attacks for the rule of Daesh. Reports of arbitrary detention of civilians who have escaped Mosul and its surrounding areas are increasing tensions. Men have been separated from family groups and taken to Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) screening centres.
According to Human Rights Watch, those centres are also being used to question children for weeks at a time with no legal representation. This is justified by the report that Daesh has recruited child soldiers . Men who have been detained detail some of the questions asked: “‘Why didn’t you fight back?’ they ask,” he said. “‘Why did you sell things to [ISIS]?’ But you can’t do anything.”
“Another man next to him said he was asked why he served ISIS fighters tea. The reason, he said, was simply because he did not want to die.” (World Post blog).
Others have said they believed that Daesh’s original takeover was a Sunni liberation from the sectarian Baghdad Government, but such illusions were destroyed quickly when the true nature of Daesh became clear. The newly displaced are prevented from leaving camps without having family or friends in the area. This is done on the basis of security. But many Sunni Arabs in Mosul will have no relatives in the area, and are unlikely to be allowed to move on.