Nov. 8, 2016 1:05 p.m. ET
Iraqi authorities on Tuesday began to identify bodies discovered in a mass grave in a village southeast of Mosul, as the United Nations said Islamic State militants had forced 1,500 families to retreat with them from the village into the city.
Iraqi authorities said the remains of some 100 decapitated bodies found Monday by Iraqi troops as they advanced into Islamic State-held territory were likely those of members of Iraq’s security forces and their family members. The government dispatched a forensic team to the site, near an agricultural school in the Hamam al-Ali district about 30 miles from Mosul. The U.N. said last month that the Sunni Muslim terror group had executed 50 former police officers in the facility.
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“Residents told us that Daesh used to round up security forces and behead them there,” local police commander Ali Allami, whose unit discovered the mass grave, said in televised remarks while using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “If Daesh didn’t find the men they were looking for, they would detain a brother a son or another relative and behead them there instead.”
Islamic State last week forcibly relocated civilians from Hamam al-Alil to Mosul’s airport, said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Since U.S.-backed Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces began their operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city from Islamic State on Oct. 17, the terror group has been systematically moving civilians from nearby villages into Mosul to use them as human shields.
The militants also abducted at least 295 former members of Iraq’s security forces in recent days, along with 30 religious leaders from districts near Mosul, Ms. Shamdasani said.
Iraqi forces have been struggling to push deeper into Mosul after breaching its outskirts last week. They have faced stiff resistance from Islamic State, which has deployed car bombs, suicide attackers and snipers in the city’s narrow streets to slow the forces’ advance. The advance is also hampered by the presence of some 1.5 million civilians who remain in Mosul and can be used as human shields, Iraqi officials have said.
“There is good progress, but we are moving cautiously. Our priority is to evacuate civilians,” said a commander with Iraq’s Golden Division special forces from inside Mosul.
Kurdish forces on Tuesday said they fully cleared the strategic town of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, of its remaining Islamic State fighters, a day after they managed to push into the town after weeks of heavy resistance from Islamic State.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, about 100 miles south of Mosul, local security forces continued to wrestle with pockets of Islamic State resistance after a counterattack on the Kurdish-held city last month by the extremists.
The militants targeted Kirkuk in part due to its proximity to Hawija, an Islamic State-held town that sits between Baghdad and Mosul and is a longtime haven for Sunni extremists.
Security officials in Kirkuk said Islamic State has been sending foreign fighters from Mosul to Hawija, with plans to use the town as a base of operations to launch attacks on security forces behind the front lines of the Mosul offensive.
Islamic State has stepped up its intimidation of Hawija’s residents, including cracking down on cellphone and weapon possession under threat of execution, according to a senior town official.
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