on October 28, 2016, 11:14 pm
Qayyarah (Iraq) (AFP) – The Islamic State group has killed scores of people and taken tens of thousands to use as human shields against Iraqi forces advancing on Mosul, the United Nations said Friday.
Thousands have fled in the other direction, prompting a warning of “massive displacement” when fighting inside the jihadists’ last urban stronghold begins.
IS’s “depraved, cowardly strategy is to attempt to use the presence of civilians to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.
The jihadists are “effectively using tens of thousands of women, men and children as human shields,” he said.
The UN human rights office said that credible reports indicate IS has forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and forcibly taken civilians into Mosul, killing those who resist or who were previously members of Iraqi security forces.
The population of Hamam al-Alil, an IS-held area south of Mosul that is an upcoming target for Iraqi forces, has reportedly nearly trebled, it said.
IS reportedly shot dead 232 people in a single day on Wednesday, and killed 24 the previous day, the rights office said.
The killings, which the UN said have been “corroborated to the extent possible”, are just the latest in a long list of atrocities committed by the jihadists since they overran swathes of Iraq in 2014.
– Potential for ‘massive displacement’ –
IS has carried out mass executions, bombed civilian targets including markets and mosques, and perpetrated a campaign of massacres, enslavement and rape targeting members of the Yazidi religious minority.
As Iraqi forces have closed in on Mosul from the north, east and south, growing numbers of civilians have fled IS-held areas and the impending fighting in territory the jihadists control.
The International Organisation for Migration said that as of Thursday, 15,804 people had been displaced since the operation began on October 17, the vast majority in the Mosul region.
“We’ve seen … quite a dramatic increase in the numbers in the last few days, and they are now going into the newly set up camps,” Karl Schembri of the Norwegian Refugee Council told AFP.
“This is already worrying because they haven’t yet entered the city… when that happens, it’s going to be quite massive displacement,” he said.
The potential for a humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of civilians are forced into camps with winter looming is just one of a raft of issues that have complicated military planning for the recapture of Mosul.
Thousands of Kurdish peshmerga fighters are taking part in the operation alongside Iraqi government troops and Kurdish leaders have made clear that they will expect payback once it has been successfully completed.
– Kurdish independence issue –
The Kurds, who have expanded the territory under their control far beyond the boundaries of their longstanding autonomous region in the north, say their hopes of a new Iraq have been dashed and that they will now explore a separate future.
“As soon as Mosul is liberated, we will meet with our partners in Baghdad and talk about our independence,” the region’s prime minister Nechirvan Barzani told Germany’s Bild newspaper.
But for now, the battle for Mosul is far from over, and most of the advancing forces are still some way from the city limits.
The head of US military operations in the Middle East, General Joseph Votel, said the jihadists were suffering heavy losses.
“Just in the operations over the last week and a half associated with Mosul, we estimate they’ve probably killed about 800 to 900 Islamic State fighters,” Votel told AFP in an interview.
Washington estimates there are between 3,500 and 5,000 IS fighters in Mosul and as many as 2,000 more in the wider area.
The US-led coalition has said that the jihadists can still travel in smaller groups, but cannot move in large convoys — hampering their ability to replace losses.
IS still controls a corridor of territory west of Mosul linking it with the Syrian part of the caliphate it declared in 2014.
But there too the jihadists have come under mounting pressure, with Western leaders raising the prospect of an offensive to capture their Syrian stronghold of Raqa within the next few weeks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday called for cooperation to prevent IS fighters leaving Mosul and heading to Syria, where Moscow is providing crucial military support for President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.