Tagged: Mosul

Islamic State returning to insurgent roots as caliphate disappears

(CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) — After being nearly defeated on the battlefields of its would-be caliphate, the Islamic State group has reverted to what it was before its spectacular conquests in 2014, analysts say – a shadowy insurgent network that targets civilian populations with guerrilla-style attacks and exploits state weaknesses to incite sectarian strife.

In Iraq and Syria, hardly a week goes by without the group staging an attack on a town or village, keeping its opponents on edge even as it fights US-backed forces advancing on the last remaining slice of territory under its control near the countries’ shared border.

Hisham al-Hashimi, an IS expert who advises the Iraqi government, said the group now operates like it did in 2010, before its rise in Iraq, which culminated four years later with the militants seizing one of Iraq’s biggest cities, Mosul, and also claiming the city of Raqqa in Syria and declaring an Islamic caliphate across large areas of both countries.

Mr. Al-Hashimi said the world’s most dangerous insurgent group is trying to prove that despite losing its territorial hold, “it still has long arms to strike.”

While it fends off attacks on its remaining pockets in Syria, a recent surge in false claims of responsibility for attacks also signals that the group is struggling to stay relevant after losing its proto-state and its dominance on the international news agenda. The main figures behind the group’s once sleek propaganda machine have mostly been killed. Raqqa fell a year ago this month, and the group has lost all but 2 percent of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria.

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Scimitar-wielding Turkish governor vows to conquer Jerusalem

(THE TIMES OF ISRAEL) — A Turkish regional governor last weekend declared while wielding a double-bladed scimitar above his head that Turkey’s forces would soon march into Jerusalem and other cities in the Middle East.

Necati Senturk, the government-appointed governor of the Kirsehir province, raised eyebrows with a speech from the balcony of the governor’s office as Turkish troops were poised to take the Syrian city of Afrin from Kurdish militia.

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“God willing, we will take Afrin. We will take Manbij,” he said in videos posted on Turkish news websites, referring to another Kurdish-held city in Syria.

Waving a sword known locally as a zulfiqar above his head with one hand and holding a megaphone in another, he added: “We will also go to Mosul, and we will go to Jerusalem!… God is Greatest!”

The Turkish sultans controlled both the Iraqi city of Mosul and the holy city of Jerusalem for long periods during the Ottoman Empire.

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Trust no one: Scholar risked all to document Islamic State

(NATIONAL POST) — By LORI HINNANT and MAGGIE MICHAEL

The historian carried secrets too heavy for one man to bear.

He packed his bag with his most treasured possessions before going to bed: the 1 terabyte hard drive with his evidence against the Islamic State group, an orange notebook half-filled with notes on Ottoman history, and, a keepsake, the first book from Amazon delivered to Mosul.

He passed the night in despair, imagining all the ways he could die, and the moment he would leave his mother and his city.

He had spent nearly his entire life in this home, with his five brothers and five sisters. He woke his mother in her bedroom on the ground floor.

“I am leaving,” he said. “Where?” she asked. “I am leaving,” was all he could say. He couldn’t endanger her by telling her anything more. In truth, since the IS had invaded his city, he’d lived a life about which she was totally unaware.

He felt her eyes on the back of his neck, and headed to the waiting Chevrolet. He didn’t look back.

For nearly two years, he’d wandered the streets of occupied Mosul, chatting with shopkeepers and Islamic State fighters, visiting friends who worked at the hospital, swapping scraps of information. He grew out his hair and his beard and wore the shortened trousers required by IS. He forced himself to witness the beheadings and deaths by stoning, so he could hear the killers call out the names of the condemned and their supposed crimes.

The blogger known as Mosul Eye kept his identity a secret as he documented Islamic State rule.

He wasn’t a spy. He was an undercover historian and blogger . As IS turned the city he loved into a fundamentalist bastion, he decided he would show the world how the extremists had distorted its true nature, how they were trying to rewrite the past and forge a brutal Sunni-only future for a city that had once welcomed many faiths.

He knew that if he was caught he too would be killed.

“I am writing this for the history , because I know this will end. People will return, life will go back to normal,” is how he explained the blog that was his conduit to the citizens of Mosul and the world beyond. “After many years, there will be people who will study what happened. The city deserves to have something written to defend the city and tell the truth, because they say that when the war begins, the first victim is the truth.”

He called himself Mosul Eye . He made a promise to himself in those first few days: Trust no one, document everything.

Neither family, friends nor the Islamic State group could identify him. His readership grew by the thousands every month.

And now, he was running for his life.

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Isis fighters surrender en masse after fall of Hawija despite vowing to fight or die

(UK INDEPENDENT) — By Rod Nordland

Extremist soldiers in Syria are foregoing martyrdom to hand themselves in at Kurdish interrogation center in northern Iraq after loss of regional stronghold in morale-sapping defeat

The prisoners were taken to a waiting room in groups of four, and were told to stand facing the concrete wall, their noses almost touching it, their hands bound behind their backs.

More than 1,000 prisoners determined to be Isis fighters passed through that room this past week after they fled their crumbling Iraqi stronghold of Hawija. Instead of the martyrdom they had boasted was their only acceptable fate, they had voluntarily ended up here in the interrogation center of the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq.

For an extremist group that has made its reputation on its ferociousness, with fighters who would always choose suicide over surrender, the fall of Hawija has been a notable turning point.

The fight for Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, took nine months, and by comparison, relatively few Isis fighters surrendered. Tal Afar fell next, in only 11 days. Some 500 fighters surrendered there.

The Iraqi military ousted Isis from Hawija in 15 days, saying it had taken its forces only three days of actual heavy fighting before most of the extremists grabbed their families and ran. According to Kurdish officials, they put up no fight at all, other than planting bombs and booby traps.

One of the men smelled so bad that when he was taken into the small interrogation room, those inside were startled. He filled the doorway, appearing even larger than his actual size. Everyone in the room seemed scared of the man, even though his hands were tied behind his back. His face had only a wisp of black stubble on the chin.

“Hello,” a visitor said. “Where’s your beard?” Isis requires all men to grow full beards.

“I’m only 21, I can’t grow it yet,” he said, clearly embarrassed.

Kurdish interrogators allowed a dozen of the surrendered fighters to be interviewed by a reporter as they arrived at the local headquarters of the Asayish, the Kurdish intelligence service, in Dibis, near the Kurds’ front lines opposite Hawija. Officers monitored all interviews.
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Many of the fighters claimed to have been just cooks or clerks. So many said they had been members of Isis for only a month or two that interrogators suspected they had been coached to say that. Gone was the contempt for the world’s opinion, spewed out in one violent video after another — many of them made in Hawija, where grisly killings, especially of Kurdish prisoners, were the norm during their three-year reign over that Sunni Arab city in northern Iraq.

Most of the prisoners, though, claimed to have never seen a beheading, or even heard of such a thing.

At first, the beardless fighter seemed an exception, admitting defiantly that he had been fighting for the group for two years, alongside family members. He readily gave his name: “Maytham Muhammed Mohemin,” he said, practically spitting it out.

The interrogator, Lieutenant Pisthiwan Salahi, said Mohemin was not only an Islamic State soldier but also a member of an elite suicide squad known as the Seekers of Martyrdom, according to informers.

Kurdish officials have been perplexed by the number of fighters who have surrendered. Many of the militants said they were ordered by their leaders to turn themselves in to the Kurds, who were known to take prisoners instead of killing them.

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Predicting the shape of Iraq’s next Sunni insurgencies

(COMBATING TERRORISM CENTER) — By Michael Knights

Abstract: All politics and security is local in Iraq. Therefore, the analytical framework for predicting the shape and intensity of Iraq’s next Sunni insurgencies should also be based on the unique characteristics of each part of Iraq. The Islamic State and other insurgents are bouncing back strongest and quickest in the areas where the security forces are either not strong enough or not politically flexible enough to activate the population as a source of resistance against insurgents.

New insurgent attacks by the Islamic State were springing up in Mosul before the ashes were even cold from the climax of the liberation battle in June 2017. With the Islamic State holding just one square mile of western Mosul, the group marked the start of the Eid religious festival by launching a wave of suicide-vest and car-bomb attacks in liberated east Mosul on June 23-24.[1] As their last inner city defensive pocket was crumbling, Islamic State forces at the edges of the city launched a 40-man raid into the Tanak and Yarmuk districts on the outer western edge of Mosul city on June 26, panicking citizens into leaving the ostensibly liberated area.[2]

These incidents, and others like them, underline the manner in which Islamic State fighters have transitioned fairly smoothly and quickly from open occupation of territory back to the terrorism and insurgency tactics that they utilized prior to 2014. All eyes are now on how the Islamic State and other Sunni militants in Iraq will adapt to the loss of terrain, but there is no need to guess. A great deal of evidence is already available in the areas that have been liberated since 2014, a theme that this author and Alexander Mello developed in an October 2016 article in this publication on threat trends in Diyala province.[3] This piece proposes an analytical framework for assessing the future strength and shape of Iraq’s Sunni insurgencies and will draw some lessons from the pre-2014 era.

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Vicar of Baghdad: ‘It is over, no Christians will be left’ in Iraq

(CREEPING SHARIA) — He is one of the world’s most prominent priests, but Canon Andrew White – known as the “Vicar of Baghdad” – has reached a painstaking conclusion: Christianity is all but over in the land where it all began.

“The time has come where it is over, no Christians will be left. Some stay Christians should stay to maintain the historical presence, but it has become very difficult. The future for the community is very limited,” White told Fox News this week. “The Christians coming out of Iraq and ISIS areas in the Middle East all say the same thing, there is no way they are ever going back. They have had enough.”

Thirty years ago, there were approximately 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. The number dwindled to around 1 million after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and a year ago it was estimated that there were less than 250,000 left. Numbers have continued to decline as families flee, and today even approximate figures are difficult to obtain.

“If there is anything I can tell Americans it is that your fellow brothers and sisters are suffering, they are desperate for help,” he said. “And it is not just a matter of praying for peace. They need a lot – food, resources, clothes, everything. They need everything.”

For decades, Christians endured persecution in Iraq by hardline extremists as infidel “people of the book” – but their fate became significantly more dire in 2014 after ISIS overran Mosul and the many ancient Christian villages surrounding the city. Thousands of families overnight were forced to flee their home, and while some have sought refuge in the northern Kurdish region, many have left the country altogether.

“A lot of these guys I have known before they were ISIS, when they were part of militias like ‘Sons of Iraq,’” he said. “They operate in secret cells all over Baghdad, and the harder the Iraqi Army attacks Mosul, the more they attack Baghdad.”

And, White stressed, there simply isn’t a “safe” way to work with them.

“It is important to find ways to engage with them, to look into their philosophies. I tried to invite some of the ISIS jihadists to dinner once,” he added. “They told me they would come, but that they would chop my head off afterwards. I didn’t think it would be a nice way to end a dinner party.”

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Turning kids into killers: Islamic State creates lost generation of Iraqi youth

(MIDDLE EAST EYE) — Mosul, Iraq – Hasan thought he had seen everything after fighting Islamic State in Fallujah in Tikrit. Then he came to Mosul, and a boy no older then 10 tried to kill him.

“It was utterly shocking,” said the 40-year-old soldier, dragging nervously on a cigarette as he remembers the child among a group of young IS suicide bombers.

“I found myself in front of children full of hatred. They all had explosive belts and they were all ready to die. It isn’t anything like killing an adult. But we had to do it.

“It’s a cruelty that has no end. For us it is a violent pain, we know we have to fight against children who have been indoctrinated in the name of a sick religion.”

This is the reality of war in northern Iraq, where IS is throwing everything – and everyone – at Iraqi forces as they slowly take back Mosul and the surrounding areas in a bitter war that has destroyed the very social fabric of the city.

Children have been spared nothing: poverty, malnutrition and cruelty under IS control; then forced onto the frontlines to be used as spotters, fighters, human shields and suicide bombers as the battles began to rage.

These are tactics that have destroyed family life in the city and its surrounding villages, where IS scooped up youngsters to teach them the ways of their “Caliph”.

In Hamam al-Alil, south of Mosul, Amir tells Middle East Eye of his own son, Mushak, who swore allegiance aged 11 soon after IS arrived in 2014.

“My children had never gone to school,” he said, his face a contortion of fatigue and pain.

“When Daesh arrived my son was a boy full of anger, he could not read or write. They taught him the hatred of the infidels. They taught him to kill.

“In two-and-a-half years he became a soldier of the Islamic police. He wasn’t even 14. I tried to stop him swearing allegiance to the Caliph, and he told me: ‘Shut up or I’ll cut your head’.”

“One day he came home with a gun and threatened me – an armed child who comes into the house saying I cannot criticise Daesh – and broke his mother’s arm as she begged him to stop.”

All villages had recruiters, said Amir, adding that more than half of the children of Hamam al-Alil have been recruited, many of them never been seen again.

Amir has lost his son: “I’m not scared he is dead. I do not care. Mushak is the shame of our family.

“Now here everybody hate us, we are desperate, we can not even go to the shop, we live locked in the house, for fear of being lynched in the street. We lost everything, a son, home, dignity, everything.”

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Iraqi sinkhole mass grave for 4,000 ISIS victims

(RT) — The bodies of some 4,000 Islamic State victims have been buried in the Khasfa sinkhole in Iraq’s desert, making it the country’s largest mass grave, according to locals, police, and activists, as cited by The Telegraph.

The sinkhole is located near the Baghdad-Mosul highway, only eight kilometers from Mosul, the daily reports.

Witnesses and police, as well as human rights organizations, say that Islamic State (IS, Daesh, formerly ISIS/ISIL) murdered and dumped the bodies of thousands of Iraqi troops into the sinkhole after they captured Mosul three years ago.

The majority were shot and thrown into the pit, locals said.

“Daesh would drive the victims to Khasfa in convoys of minibuses, trucks and pickups. The men had their hands bound and their eyes blindfolded. They were taken to the sinkhole and shot in the back of the head,” 40-year-old local villager Mahmoud told The Daily Telegraph.

The terrorist killers were masked, the witness added.

Earlier this week, the Telegraph reportedly went to the Khasfa sinkhole following the recapture of the western half of Mosul by Iraqi troops.

The city has been under IS control since 2014, and the offensive to retake it began in October.

On Friday, Iraqi forces seized the city’s airport.

Over the past years, IS is believed to have conducted a campaign to hunt down and murder policemen and soldiers and toss them into mass graves in the desert.

Human Rights Watch reported last November that IS had executed at least 300 policemen and buried them in a mass grave some 30 kilometers from Mosul.

Another mass grave containing 100 beheaded bodies was found earlier that month in a school just outside of Mosul.

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Eyewitness: Life Under ISIS

(CLARION PROJECT) — On February 5, we reported on the ‘biting women’ of ISIS. This time we take a look at the broader treatment of civilians by ISIS:

S, a young lawyer from Mosul, fell from her ladder and needed medical attention. “I was in pain but didn’t go to see a doctor because I couldn’t stand the sight of all the ISIS men in the clinics,” she told the Russian news agency Sputnik.

Even patients were reportedly assaulted by the men and women of Islamic State; foreigners took the brunt of the violence.

The first year Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) took control of Mosul, S would stay at home watching TV or using the internet. However, after that, ISIS cut off all outside communication.

If a number of ISIS men gathered on the street where S lived she knew that would spell trouble. It meant house searches and more.

The male members of the morality police would pick on men with light, wispy beards or those wearing short sleeves. Smoking was also forbidden. Violators would be beaten and fined. The poor were whipped the most and sent to work in cemeteries.

One who spoke against ISIS or one of its members could face execution. Alternatively, they could have their mouths sewn up.

“There was no recreational place for families, especially for kids in Mosul,” said S. “Even the promenades were empty because of all the morality police that would hang around there.”

This had a negative impact of the children’s physical and mental well being and development, she said.

Most children did not receive vaccinations, and many died because of the terrible conditions of the hospitals, lack of medications, services and the regular power cuts.

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The Atlantic: What ISIS really wants

» The Atlantic: What ISIS really wants