Trapped Mosul residents brace themselves as Islamic State digs in for fight: ‘Anyone who flees is shot dead’
As Iraqi security forces and Kurdish fighters closed in on Mosul, its residents cowered in their homes and braced for what is likely to be a gruelling street battle.
“Everyone is staying at home because we don’t know what else to do. Daesh [another name for Islamic State] are mostly moving around on motorbike and have small and heavy guns. The planes started bombing Mosul around 1am today and they are in the sky constantly and occasionally striking targets,” said Abu Mohammed, a 35-year-old from the east side of the city, on Monday.
Mohammed is not his real name. He is a Shia who has survived the past two years under Islamic State control by passing himself off as Sunni.
He said he thought the airstrikes were mostly precisely targeted on Islamic State fighters but added: “Daesh are moving into civilian houses and mixing with the population. For example Daesh has placed a large depot of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in a house next to my cousin’s house. I begged him to leave his house and bring his family to stay with me as the house could be targeted by coalition. He refused and said: Whatever destiny brings.”
“People have had enough in Mosul, the majority want Daesh to go as soon as possible and would like to see the Iraqi army and peshmerga enter the city,” he said.
“We have seen too many beheadings, people being drowned in cages, thrown from top of buildings ... I myself saw a man thrown off a building near the governor’s office around three months ago. I couldn’t sleep for a week afterwards.”
US aircraft have begun dropping 7 million leaflets over the city, urging civilians to stay in their homes and gave advice on how to protect themselves from flying glass and comfort their children when the bombs drops. It advised residents not to attempt to flee. That would be almost impossible anyway, Mohammed said.
“It is difficult for civilians to leave the city because a ditch has been dug around many neighbourhoods in the city especially the area east of the city,” he said.
People smugglers have raised their prices to astronomical sums and IS was reportedly summarily executing anyone its fighters find trying to escape the city of a million people.
Abu Sabra, 22, said Isis militants were burning tyres in the centre of town to try to obscure their strongholds from the coalition aircraft above. He said they had lined up shipping containers along the main streets, though it was unclear what purpose they served.
“There is no money and even though the food is cheap we can not buy it. This evening we only had fried potatoes,” Sabra said. “Anyone who tries to flee, is shot dead.”
However, he added that some residents are ready to rise up against IS when the time is right.
“I can see signs that people want to resist Daesh because they have had enough. In my neighborhood, some people openly use their mobile phones which is forbidden,” Sabra said. “Others who still have their guns hidden are preparing to join the peshmerga or the Iraqi army when they enter the city to fight Daesh.”
Khalaf al-Hadidi, a member of Mosul’s city council who now lives in the Kurdish stronghold of Irbil, said the council was doing what it can to advise the coalition on where there are heavily populated areas to be avoided in planning airstrikes. It is also helping set up camps to help people displaced by the fighting. Hadidi’s greatest fear was that Shia militias might carry out sectarian reprisals on the local people after the city is liberated from Isis.
Hadidi added that the council adopted a decision, which it passed to the Iraqi government, to oppose the participation of Shia militias in the mission to retake Mosul. “We do not want to go back to the time of sectarian war and killing civilians. The involvement of Shia militias would have hurt morale,” he said.