Tag: Mosul

Civilians in western Mosul are being shot at by Isis and Iraqi forces alike | The Independent

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Civilians trying to flee the besieged Isis-held enclave in west Mosul are being shot dead by Isis and Iraqi army snipers as they try to cross the Tigris River, says an eyewitness trapped inside the city with his family. In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Jasim, a 33-year old Iraqi Sunni living in west Mosul near the 5th Bridge, said: “I want to rescue my mother and take her to the eastern part, but it is dangerous. Three people were killed in our neighbourhood trying to cross the river to the eastern side. They were shot dead by the snipers.”

Source: Civilians in western Mosul are being shot at by Isis and Iraqi forces alike | The Independent

Inside Isis: how UK spies infiltrated terrorist leadership | The Independent

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“They are afraid of a lot of things now. They are afraid of the bombing, they are afraid of the attack that’s coming and they are also really afraid of the foreign spies who are among them”. This was Rashid’s description of what was going on inside Isis. And the Western intelligence agency that has infiltrated Isis the most, claimed the Belgian jihadi, was the British.

Source: Inside Isis: how UK spies infiltrated terrorist leadership | The Independent

Battle for Mosul: Iraq military launches long-term offensive to reclaim pivotal city from Islamic State – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Iraq’s armed forces launch what is expected to be a long and difficult offensive to retake Mosul.

Source: Battle for Mosul: Iraq military launches long-term offensive to reclaim pivotal city from Islamic State – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Double-layered veils and despair … women describe life under Isis : Islamic State has imposed a strict dress code in areas it controls in Iraq and Syria, with punishments of fines or beatings for those who do not comply

Veiled women sit on a bench in Raqqa

Women living under Islamic State’s control in Iraq and Syria are facing increasingly harsh restrictions on movement and dress, which are rigorously enforced by religious police and are leading to resentment and despair among moderate Muslims.

Residents of Mosul, Raqqa and Deir el-Zour have told the Guardian in interviews conducted by phone and Skype that women are forced to be accompanied by a male guardian, known as a mahram, at all times, and are compelled to wear double-layered veils, loose abayas and gloves.

Their testimonies follow the publication this month of an Isis “manifesto” to clarify the “realities of life and the hallowed existence of women in the Islamic State”. It said that girls could be married from the age of nine, and that women should only leave the house in exceptional circumstances and should remain “hidden and veiled”.

Sama Maher, 20, a resident of Raqqa who has been detained several times by Isis religious police, known as Hisbah, for violating Isis rules, said: “It is prohibited for a woman in Raqqa or Deir el-Zour to move anywhere outside without a mahram, a male guardian. It is a big problem as I do not have any, we are only five sisters.”

An Islamic State fighter waves a flag in Raqqa.
An Islamic State fighter waves a flag in Raqqa.
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An Islamic State fighter waves a flag in Raqqa. The group published a “manifesto” within weeks of taking control of the city. Photograph: Reuters

Isis has closed universities in areas under its control, she added. “I had to quit my university studies in Aleppo because I’m not allowed to cross the checkpoints without a mahram and leave the city by myself like before.”
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Male guardians are subject to punishment if women are not complying with the prescribed dress code. In Mosul, Isis published a charter within weeks of taking taking control of the city, restricting women’s movements and imposing dress requirements. Women were instructed to wear a Saudi-style black veil of two layers to conceal their eyes and a loose robe designed by Isis after it said some abayas revealed body outlines.

Many women initially objected to the Isis order but complied when they realised they could be beaten, humiliated and fined, and their husbands might be punished. Men are now forcing their wives and daughters to stay at home to avoid confrontations with Hisbah, which issues orders via the internet or by posting written statements at shops warning against violations of Islamic rules in the city.

“They forced women of all ages to wear a veil, even though the majority of the women in Mosul wear a hijab,” paediatrician Maha Saleh, 36, said. “The Hisbah would hit a woman on her head with a stick if she was not wearing a veil.

“At the beginning, some female doctors refused to wear veils and went on a strike by staying at home. Hisbah took ambulances and went to their houses and brought them by force to the hospital. One of my colleagues was alone in her clinic in the hospital and thought it was all right to strip off her veil. All of a sudden, two Hisbah broke in her room and reproached her for not wearing the veil and warned her not to do that again.”

In Raqqa, the Isis “capital” in Syria, women were initially ordered to wear a black abaya covering the entire body. Soon after, a command to wear a veil was issued, then a third ordered a shield on top of the abaya. Women are also instructed to wear only black, including gloves and shoes. Isis subsequently ordered women to hide their eyes, requiring a a double-layered veil.

I was shocked to see that women in labour were denied access to the hospital unless they put veils on

Mosul resident Sabah Nadiem said: “I went once with my wife to one of the old souqs to do some shopping, and after a short while I lost her among the crowd. The problem was that all the women were wearing veils and it was hard to know who was my wife. I was utterly scared to make a mistake and go for the wrong woman. It would be a disaster to fall into Hisbah hands. I could not even use my mobile as the network was down.” Nadiem said he called out his wife’s name loudly in the souq until she heard him and they were reunited.

Hisbah patrols tour Isis-controlled cities to ensure that women and men are behaving in accordance with Islamic rules. If they spot a woman in the street not wearing a shield or gloves, sometimes they offer her “Islamic dress” with a pair of gloves and advise her not to go out again without them, or they take her to Hisbah headquarters and keep her there until her mahram arrives. The mahram may be fined or could be subjected to lashes.

Children are not exempt from strict dress codes. When schools opened in Mosul last October, Samar Hadi, a mother of five, sent her two daughters – Hala, six, and Tiba, seven, – to school without a hijab, as she had the year before.

“After two days, the headmistress told them that they all have to wear the hijab when they come to school. So I made them wear the hijab. Then an Isis order came to stipulate that only girls in 4th, 5th and 6th class in primary school have to wear hijab, not 1st and 2nd classes.”

A veiled woman walks past a billboard urging women to wear a hijab
A veiled woman walks past a billboard urging women to wear a hijab
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A veiled woman walks past a billboard urging women to wear a hijab. Photograph: Reuters

In Deir el-Zour in Syria, the rules for female pupils and students appear to be stricter. “Little girls in primary schools have to wear an abaya until the 4th class, when they have to wear a veil too,” said Sali Issam, 15, a secondary school student. “Though all the teachers in girls’ schools are female, neither students nor teachers are allowed to lift the veil of their faces inside the classroom.”

Many families stopped sending their children to school after recent air strikes by the Syrian regime army, she added. “Families are scared of Hisbah and Assad’s warplanes.”

Women in labour in maternity hospitals in Mosul are forced to comply with dress codes. “When I was in labour, I went to the hospital wearing a veil though it was too hot. Isis Hisbah were at the front door of the hospital. I saw some women in labour who seemed to be in a panic and did not have time to wear a veil. I was shocked to see that they were denied access to the hospital unless they put veils on their faces,” said Salah.

Women over the age of 45 are exempted from the order to wear the veil, but often find themselves in difficulty. On a routine trip to Mosul University where she teaches, Saleh shared a taxi with an older woman who was not wearing a veil. “The taxi driver turned to the woman and said: ‘Why are not you wearing a veil?’ She told him that Isis said the veil was imposed on women who are less than 45. The driver answered: ‘I’m afraid if I have you in my car, Isis Hisbah will stop me at a checkpoint and fine me.’”

Buses are also stopped for passengers to be checked. If a woman is found without required dress or mahram, all passengers are forced to disembark and the bus is refused permission to proceed. “If Hisbah spot a woman without a mahram in a bus, the whole bus is evacuated and sent back because the driver accepted her,” said Maher.

In Mosul, single women are not allowed to be the last passenger on a bus, alone with the driver. Women are forced to get off buses before their destination if there are no other passengers present. Bassma Adel, 35, who works in a bank, had to get off a bus to avoid being alone with the driver even though she was not near her home.

I was fined $1,500 and got 10 lashes on the bottom of my feet

“I had to walk to my house though the distance was long in inclement weather. One of my male colleagues passed by his car and offered to give me a lift. We drove for a short distance before we were spotted by Hisbah. They asked us for a document that proves my colleague was a mahram to me. When we failed to do that, they reproached us for being together in the car and humiliated us and ordered me to step down.”

Hospitals in Raqqa are almost empty of female doctors, according to residents. The few female nurses are forbidden from lifting their veils or wearing anything but Islamic dress. All woman visiting doctors must be accompanied by a mahram, who has to wait outside the clinic. If Hisbah discovers a man inside a clinic, he will be arrested. A woman is permitted to be checked by a male doctor but is not allowed to lift her veil during examination.

Recently Isis ordered all female hairdressers to be shut down in Mosul. Samah Nasir, 43, had her own hairdressing shop for more than nine years – the only source of income for her three children as her husband is ill and unable to work. “I decided to reopen my shop despite the Isis embargo because I had nothing to feed my children and pay for my husband’s medications.”

Shortly after, Hisbah broke in her house and took her and her husband to a sharia court. “The judge ruled that I should pay $1,500 [£977] as a fine and get 10 lashes on the bottom of my feet in one of the rooms in the sharia court. I have not been in such a situation all my life.” Now Nasir rarely leaves her house.

The liberation of Mosul will have to wait If Baghdad is willing to wait, the US might help with forces needed to evict ISIL from Mosul. Why is nothing ever mentioned about Australian efforts? Are we there?

Peshmerga armed forces of Iraqi Kurdistan put a major dent in the northern defences of Mosul, writes Knights [Reuters]

About the Author

Michael Knights

Michael Knights is the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He specialises in the politics and security of Iraq. He has worked in every Iraqi province and most of the country’s hundred districts, including periods embedded with Iraq’s security forces.

@mikeknightsiraq

Story highlights

In the past week, the Peshmerga armed forces of Iraqi Kurdistan put a major dent in the northern defences of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and capital of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Peshmerga launched a powerful offensive on both sides of the Tigris River to the north of Mosul, extending the area of Kurdish control around ISIL strongholds like Kisik (the former base of the 3rd Iraqi Army division), Wana and Badush.

The Kurds are now 32km northwest of Mosul city to the north and are much closer, often just 8 to 16km, from the eastern areas of Mosul city. Along the Syria-Iraq border the Kurds are gradually extending their control around Sinjar and restricting ISIL use of the border areas closest to Mosul.

In the past week, the Peshmerga armed forces of Iraqi Kurdistan put a major dent in the northern defences of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and capital of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Peshmerga launched a powerful offensive on both sides of the Tigris River to the north of Mosul, extending the area of Kurdish control around ISIL strongholds like Kisik (the former base of the 3rd Iraqi Army division), Wana and Badush.

The Kurds are now 32km northwest of Mosul city to the north and are much closer, often just 8 to 16km, from the eastern areas of Mosul city. Along the Syria-Iraq border the Kurds are gradually extending their control around Sinjar and restricting ISIL use of the border areas closest to Mosul.

The federal government’s main forces are just over 160km to the south, firming up their control of Beiji, site of Iraq’s largest refinery and a vital crossroads that links ISIL areas of strength in Anbar, Kirkuk, Tikrit, and Mosul.

With international air support and intelligence, the federal government’s special forces are periodically probing the desert areas west of Mosul with a view to choking off the ISIL line of supply to Syria.

Battle for Mosul in 2015?

A new nine-brigade Iraqi army force is being slowly assembled by Iraq’s Ministry of Defence with US backing, intended to train and equip 45,000 troops specifically for the task of urban assault in the face of heavy street-by-street resistance.

At the same time another war is being fought largely unseen – the war of the coalition’s spies and sensors versus ISIL’s sentinels keeping a close eye on the citizens of Mosul.

Iraqi army prepares for assault on Mosul

The US and other international allies can map every structure and track every signal emanating from Mosul.

Local informants talking to the Kurds, Iraqis and Americans are helping to build a picture of life inside Mosul and the location and habits of ISIL in the city.

All these preparations are being made in advance of the main event; a storming of Mosul city during 2015. But when will this attack take place and how long will the battle for Mosul last?

For the federal government in Iraq, time is of the essence.

Baghdad’s leaders want to deliver tangible victories against ISIL in 2015, and that means liberating ISIL-held cities. Iraqi leaders may be tempted to view Mosul as the “head of the snake”, the ISIL capital within Iraq and a far more significant and populous city than ISIL’s first capital in Raqqa, Syria.

ISIL would not disappear with Mosul’s recapture, but a powerful blow would be struck against its prestige and recruitment potential. ISIL can probably muster well under 10,000 militants in a city of nearly one million residents, meaning that the balance could turn against them rapidly if the populace feels that liberation is close at hand.

Call for an early probe

These factors have led some Iraqi government planners to call for an early probe of the Mosul defences, to test whether ISIL really can control the city in the face of an imminent government offensive.

An alternative, slower approach to the liberation of Mosul is based on a different appreciation of the situation on the ground in the city.

ISIL and its predecessors have proven effective at urban defence, in the past during the 2004 battles of Fallujah and more recently in Syria at Aleppo and in Iraq at Tikrit. ISIL is actively forcing the population to stay inside Mosul, complicating the risk of civilian casualties in any hasty attack on the city.

ISIL and its predecessors have proven effective at urban defence, in the past during the 2004 battles of Fallujah and more recently in Syria at Aleppo and in Iraq at Tikrit.

ISIL is actively forcing the population to stay inside Mosul, complicating the risk of civilian casualties in any hasty attack on the city.

Widespread use of crude homemade landmines gives ISIL the ability to slow down the attackers as they laboriously clear mined areas.

Mosul is a large city, 26sq km, not substantially smaller than Baghdad in terms of its surface area. This means Mosul is unlikely to be secured by the limited federal forces available today.

ISIL seems to have maintained effective control over the local population in Mosul until now, though that may change when government forces draw closer.

Finally, it will be tough to isolate Mosul from Syria entirely because desert areas to the west – Ain al-Jahsh, Tall Abta, Tall Afar, Baaj – remain under ISIL control and will require both ground forces and airpower to interdict.

The Kurds have held the closest positions to Mosul city ever since ISIL overran Mosul in June 2014. In fact, to the northeast of Mosul, Kurdish forces have never been more than 13km from the centre of the city throughout the past seven months.

Now Kurdish forces make up the jaws closing on Mosul from the north and the south, but these jaws are perhaps unlikely to close entirely. The Kurds are keeping ISIL under pressure and limiting their ability to reinforce Mosul but that does not mean the Kurds are willing to suffer heavy casualties in street-to-street fighting to retake the predominately Arab areas of Mosul city, which account for almost all of western Mosul and significant neighbourhoods east of the Tigris.

Who will ‘liberate’ Mosul?

The federal government probably has to be the primary force-provider for the attack on ISIL in Mosul. If Baghdad is willing to wait until the middle of the year, or even beyond, the US will probably help to develop more powerful assault forces needed to evict ISIL, and the new police forces to reestablish control in the city.

If Baghdad wants to move sooner than the late summer there are only two options; first, a daring but extremely risky “thunder run” into the city whereby small special forces and tank units try to spark an uprising against ISIL.

Iraqi army prepares for ‘liberation of Mosul’

The only other near-term alternative is reliance on predominately Shia Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) units.

But these forces are arguably too small and too distracted to take on the Mosul operation as that they are fighting across a dozen battlefields right now, mainly in Shia-dominated parts of Iraq.

Nor would the Popular Mobilisation units necessarily be welcomed in Mosul city, even by anti-ISIL militants.

Though Popular Mobilisation units have supported Sunni tribes in Ramadi, Dhuluiya and Heet, the situation in Mosul may be different. ISIL succeeded in seizing Mosul partly because of local resentment against the Shia-led security forces.

Moslawis are likely to react negatively to dominance by any major outside security force, whether Shia militias, Peshmerga or even federal army forces. In 2003 when the Saddam forces collapsed, Mosul immediately became a free-for-all where pop-up militant groups vied for dominance.

In all likelihood the full commencement of the battle of Mosul will need to wait until the summer of 2015 at the earliest.

Two risks will drive decision-makers in Baghdad, Washington and Erbil to hold back from assaulting the city.

The first is the risk of catastrophic failure; the bloody repulse of a hasty attack on the city, which could negatively affect Iraqi security force morale elsewhere and transfer the initiative back to ISIL.

But a second, equally serious risk is that of catastrophic success; that ISIL control could “pop” surprisingly quickly, creating a chaotic scramble for power in Iraq’s second city between the Iraqi government, the Kurds, local Sunni militias and ISIL diehards.

If such an outcome can be avoided through the patient creation of a “day after” plan agreed upon by all the attacking forces, then the eviction of ISIL from Mosul might qualify as a “liberation” instead of just the commencement of a new chapter of fighting in that embattled city.

Michael Knights is the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He specialises in the politics and security of Iraq. He has worked in every Iraqi province and most of the country’s hundred districts, including periods embedded with Iraq’s security forces.

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