NOV. 2, 2016
BAGHDAD — The Latest on the Iraqi forces’ offensive to retake the Islamic State-held city of Mosul (all times local):
A human rights watchdog says government-sanctioned tribal Sunni militia taking part in the military operation to retake the Islamic State group stronghold of Mosul have carried out revenge attacks against men and boys in areas recently recaptured from the militants.
London-based Amnesty International said in a statement on Wednesday that fighters from the Sab’awi tribe unlawfully rounded up civilians, beat them with metal rods, gave them electric shocks, placed them in cages and tied some of them to the bonnets of vehicles before parading them through the streets.
The allegations are based on interviews with local officials and eyewitnesses, who said the violations took place in a group of villages located on the south-eastern bank of the Tigris river and under the control of the Sab’wai tribal militia.
Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for research at Amnesty International’s Beirut office, describes the violations as “crimes under international law” and adds that Iraqi authorities “must rein in the tribal militia fighters responsible and bring them to justice.”
Iraqi forces say they are advancing on the southern approach to the Islamic State-held city of Mosul, a front where they have been making slower progress than to the east.
The Commandeer of the Mosul Operation, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Raheed Yar Allah, says in a statement that Federal Police Forces have retaken four villages near Hamam al-Alil area.
A spokesman for the Joint Military Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, confirmed that the operation happened on Wednesday morning.
Iraqi special forces are going house-to-house in Mosul’s easternmost neighborhood of Gogjali where sappers are searching roads for explosives and booby traps Islamic State militants could have left behind before they were driven out a day earlier.
Gen. Abdul-Ghani al-Asadi, the top counterterrorism forces commander, says the special forces had imposed a curfew in the neighborhood while gains there are being consolidated.
Al-Asadi says that “we fear that Daesh militants could attack our forces or the town with mortars.” Daesh is the Arabic acronym for IS.
The general also says that “for the safety of the families, we ask them to stay inside their houses.” He spoke in Bartella, some 15 kilometers, or 9 miles, behind the front lines.
Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil says Iraqi special forces arrested three suspected Daesh militants in the area of Gogjali.
An aid agency is warning that the lives of more than 1 million civilians trapped inside the Islamic State-held Mosul “are in grave danger” as Iraqi troops advance and set foot inside the city where fighting is expected to intensify.
The Norwegian Refugee Council, which works with refugees and internally displaced Iraqis, says that around 18,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since the start of the massive military operation to retake Mosul over two weeks ago.
The council’s Iraq chief, Wolfgang Gressmann, says the agency’s aid workers “are now bracing … for the worst. The lives of 1.2 million civilians are in grave danger, and the future of all of Iraq is now in the balance.”
In their battle for Mosul, Iraqi forces for the first time in two years on Tuesday entered the eastern Gogjali and Karama neighborhoods inside Mosul’s city limits.
An Iraqi special forces general says his troops are holding their positions along Mosul’s eastern outskirts as poor weather hampers visibility in operations to rout Islamic State fighters from the country’s second-largest city.
Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil says no advances are planned for Wednesday, as high humidity and clouds obscure the view of aircraft and drones.
From the Mosul neighborhood of Gogjali, which is inside city limits but just outside more urban districts, the guns have gone largely silent, although sporadic rifle cracks could be heard as well as some army artillery fire on IS positions.
The pause comes after Iraqi troops on Tuesday set foot in the city for the first time in more than two years, gearing up for urban warfare expected to take weeks, if not months.
By Maher Chmaytelli and Stephen Kalin
BAGHDAD/BARTELLA, Iraq (Reuters) – U.S.-backed Iraqi forces moved closer on Wednesday to a town south of Mosul where aid groups and regional officials say Islamic State has executed dozens of prisoners.
A military statement said security forces advanced to the edge of Hammam al-Alil, a thermal water resort, after an elite unit breached the eastern limits of Mosul, the ultra-hardline group’s last major city stronghold in Iraq.
The battle that started on Oct. 17 with air and ground support from a U.S.-led coalition is shaping up as the largest in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
Mosul still has a population of 1.5 million people, much more than any of the other cities captured by Islamic State two years ago in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The United Nations cited reports on Tuesday that Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL, is attempting to displace Hammam al-Alil’s estimated population of 25,000 for use as human shields and protection against air and artillery strikes.
“We have grave concerns for the safety of these and the tens of thousands of other civilians who have reportedly been forcibly relocated by ISIL in the past two weeks,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.
The town, 15 km (9 miles) south of Mosul, had a pre-war population of 65,000, a local official said.
Aid organizations, local officials and Mosul residents have cited reports that IS has executed dozens of people in Hammam al-Alil and barracks nearby on suspicion of planning rebellions in and around Mosul to aid the advancing troops.
Abdul Rahman al-Waggaa, a member of the Nineveh provincial council, told Reuters last week that most of the victims were former police and army members. The men were shot dead, he said, quoting the testimony of remaining residents of the villages and people displaced from the area.
Security forces advancing north on the western bank of the Tigris River recaptured five villages on Wednesday, the closest of them just 5 km (3 miles) from Hammam al-Alil, according to military statements.
Just across the river from those forces lie the ruins of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, which the Iraqi government says was bulldozed last year as part of Islamic State’s campaign to destroy symbols which the Sunni Muslim zealots consider idolatrous. Army troops heading north on that side of the Tigris have yet to reach the area.
FEARS OF A HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
The United Nations has said the Mosul offensive could trigger a humanitarian crisis and a possible refugee exodus if the civilians inside in Mosul seek to escape, with up to 1 million people fleeing in a worst-case scenario.
The International Organisation for Migration said nearly 21,000 people have been displaced since the start of the campaign, excluding thousands of villagers taken into Mosul by retreating jihadists who used them as human shields.
Elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) troops were the first to breach Mosul’s official boundary this week. They said on Tuesday they were in control of the state television station.
A CTS commander, Lt. General Abdul Ghani al-Assadi, told reporters in Bartella, a village east of Mosul, that the unit will pause its advance on the eastern front because of some rainfall early on Wednesday.
“God willing the next stage will begin within hours. This depends on the weather,” he said.
A resident of Mosul’s eastern Karama district, still under Islamic State control, said on Wednesday four people were killed in artillery fire and air strikes, and said he saw two partially destroyed houses.
“There’s a compulsory curfew in our area. The women and children are frightened and the men can’t do anything. We can’t even help the wounded,” the resident told Reuters by telephone.
“One person was wounded by shrapnel in his house and he bled to death. No one could save him. We can’t retrieve the bodies. Anyone who leaves his house risks his life.”
However residents said the city was quieter than on Tuesday.
Assadi said a curfew had been imposed on the recaptured eastern suburb of Kokjali to protect residents from mortar bombs fired by the insurgents.
Kurdish peshmerga fighters are also deployed on the eastern and northern fronts, and Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militias are attacking Islamic State west of Mosul.
Some Sunni Muslim volunteers opposed to Islamic State also want to join the battle. Amnesty International said on Wednesday fighters from one group, the Sab’awi tribal militia, tortured and humiliated men and boys in villages southeast of Mosul who were suspected of having ties to Islamic State.
“There is strong evidence that Sab’awi tribal militia members have committed crimes under international law by torturing and otherwise ill-treating residents… in revenge for crimes committed by IS,” Amnesty’s Lynn Maalouf said.
In one incident, seven men and boys were placed in poultry cages in the middle of a public roundabout. They were brought out one by one, forced to say they were donkeys, and were beaten, Amnesty said.
There have been no reports of abuses by pro-Iranian militias, but their involvement is causing alarm in Turkey which has had troops deployed north of the city since last year to train and support some of the Sunni Arab volunteers.
The Turkish army has begun deploying tanks and other armored vehicles to the town of Silopi near the Iraqi border.
Turkey says it has a responsibility to protect ethnic Turkmens and Sunni Arabs in the area around Mosul, once part of the Ottoman Empire. It fears both Kurdish PKK militants and Shi’ite militias, which the Iraqi army has relied on in the past, will be used in the campaign and stoke ethnic bloodletting.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said after a cabinet session in Baghdad on Tuesday that tensions with Turkey have eased in the last week but that Iraq would respond to any “violation” of its territory.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan)
Tags: Amnesty International, Daesh, Federal Police Forces, Gogjali, Iraq, Iraqi forces, Iraqi special forces, Islamic state, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Raheed Yar Allah, Mosul, Sab'awi tribe, US coalition, war crimes