Troops find 100 beheaded corpses as they advance on Islamic State stronghold of Mosul
Iraqi military and police forces have uncovered a mass grave containing 100 decapitated bodies in a small town south of the Islamic State-held city of Mosul.
Colonel Abdel Rahman Khazali, a spokesman for the Iraqi federal police, said the remains were discovered Monday in a pit at an agricultural college outside the town of Hamam al-Alil, which was recaptured by Iraqi forces over the last three days.
Khazali said medical teams were examining the remains and trying to determine their identities. “The investigation is just beginning,” he said.
The Iraqi Joint Command issued a brief statement condemning Islamic State.
“Gangs of ISIS militants continue to commit crimes against our people,” the military said.
Most of the bodies in the pit were reduced to skeletons, said Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for the Joint Military Command.
He said a forensics team from Baghdad would investigate the site on Tuesday.
Fighters from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, have held the city of Mosul and surrounded towns and villages for more than two years. A massive offensive by combined Iraqi forces, aided by U.S. air support, began three weeks ago.
Villagers in the surrounding area have said that Islamic State militants rounded them up at gunpoint as Iraqi forces advanced and made them walk to Hamam al-Alil. Some who later escaped said that former police and army officers were separated from them and summarily executed, as the militants grew suspicious that some were collaborating with the security forces.
While the Iraqi federal police were investigating the mass grave south of Mosul, Kurdish peshmerga forces on Monday recaptured the town of Bashiqa to the northeast.
The offensive to reclaim the town of Bashiqa is part of the broader push to drive IS out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, relieving those living under its occupation from the type of brutality, such as mass killings, that the group has committed.
IS militants have carried out a series of massacres since seizing large swaths of southern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014, often documenting them with photos and videos circulated online.
The offensive to retake Bashiqa began at dawn with a Kurdish barrage of heavy artillery, Katyusha rockets and mortar rounds slamming into IS positions, providing cover for the advance of armored columns.
Smoke rose from the town throughout the day, with large explosions sending dark clouds into the sky.
“We have the coordinates of their bases and tunnels, and we are targeting them from here in order to weaken them so that our forces can reach their targets more easily,” said Iraqi Kurdish commander Brigadier General Iskander Khalil Gardi.
Bashiqa, which is believed to be largely deserted except for dozens of IS fighters, is located about 13km northeast of Mosul’s outskirts. Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, backed by a US-led coalition and joined by government-sanctioned militias, are fighting to drive IS out of those surrounding areas and open additional fronts to attack Mosul itself.
Bashiqa has been surrounded by Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, for weeks but Monday’s push appeared to be the most serious yet to drive IS from the town.
Kurdish forces launched mortar rounds and fired heavy artillery into the town Sunday in advance of the offensive. More artillery and air strikes hit the town early Monday as the Kurdish forces’ advance got underway.
Iraqi special forces entered Mosul last week and have made some progress in gaining a foothold on the city’s eastern edges. But progress inside the city has been slowed as troops push into more densely populated areas.
The troops are suffering casualties as the militants target them with suicide car bombs and booby traps in close-quarters fighting along the city’s narrow streets. IS still holds territory to the north, south and west of Mosul, its last major urban stronghold in Iraq.
In neighboring Syria, meanwhile, Kurdish-led Syrian fighters pushed ahead Monday with an offensive aimed at isolating and encircling the Islamic State group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, making small advances in villages to the north of the city. US-led coalition warplanes provided air cover for the long-awaited campaign to liberate the city, which began Sunday.
Associated Press and Washington Post