Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Mosul residents face battle for survival

Mosul residents face battle for survival

28 December 2016 

MOSUL, Iraq – When fighting closed in on his neighbourhood in Mosul, father of three Nashwan’s brother warned him it was time to leave. Hours later, the family home was partially destroyed.
“My brother saved me,” said Nashwan, as he stood outside the temporary home in the war-ravaged city where he is sheltering with 40 members of his extended family – most of them young children who thronged around him as he spoke.

The family huddles together in just three rooms of the house, belonging to a relative who previously fled the push by Iraqi forces to retake the country’s second city from extremists. Nashwan has since returned twice to his old home to inspect the damage and collect a few belongings.

“When I entered the house I was sad. But after a moment I thought: ‘Thank God I managed to escape.’ If we had stayed there we would have been slaughtered,” he said.
The family is still within range of artillery fire as the battle for the city rages. As temperatures in Mosul plummet towards freezing, they live without clean water, enough food or any power.

“When we fled I couldn’t even take our clothes, but the most important thing to us is food and water,” he added. Prior to the battle, he had been working as a taxi driver to support his relatives, who are jobless.
So far, more than 108,000 thousand Iraqis have fled Mosul since the fight to retake the city from extremists began on October 17, with most seeking shelter in camps operated by the government and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
But thousands of families like that of Nashwan remain displaced inside Mosul, or have returned to the city despite the ongoing battle. They are forced to find whatever shelter they can in outlying areas of the city as far from the fighting as possible

Many risk death from stray mortar rounds and stay in bullet-scarred houses abandoned by other families. They are unable to return to their own homes, which have either been destroyed or are located in areas where the fighting is even more intense.
“As the security situation continues to deteriorate, it is vital that civilians still remaining in Mosul are not prevented from leaving the city and are allowed access to safety,” said UNHCR’s Representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo.
“Civilians in Mosul face a stark choice. If they stay, they risk hunger and being caught in the crossfire. If they flee, they risk being killed by snipers or landmines,” he added.

As night-time temperatures drop close to freezing, those displaced within Mosul are in desperate need of food, clean water, blankets, clothes and kerosene for heating.
UNHCR has stepped up winter distributions to parts of Mosul, handing out 53,536 thermal blankets and quilts in recent weeks to those in need.
Nashwan said he wants to go back home, but cannot as fighting rages. Furthermore, essential items like medicine for family members with conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure are unavailable closer to the front lines. Last week, he received two parcels of thermal blankets and mattresses from a UNHCR partner organization.

“We need this,” he said. “We are very low in terms of blankets and mattresses – we have three people sleeping under one blanket. We fled with our souls when the explosions and firing started. We ran away so quickly that there was no time to prepare anything. We fled even without our shoes.”
Faiza Abed, 30, walked for one hour to reach a UNHCR distribution from her Mosul neighbourhood, where she lives in an abandoned building. “I came to get the blankets, I have a son who is disabled and our situation is bad, we have nothing to cover us,” she said.
“I live in an unfinished building so I need something to cover up.” Her family moved to eastern Mosul with their 20 sheep two years ago, after armed groups took control of their village and all work dried up.

During the fighting she dug a hole in the ground inside the house for her and her son to shelter in. “We got very scared. We made the hole so we could hide.”

‘Difficult to predict’ when Mosul will fall: US officer

‘Difficult to predict’ when Mosul will fall: US officer


It is impossible to say when Iraqi military operations aimed at recapturing Mosul from the Daesh terrorist group will wrap up, according to a high-ranking U.S. army officer.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency via email, U.S. Army Colonel John Dorian, the spokesman for an international, U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition, described the Iraqi army’s Mosul campaign -- which began on Oct. 17 -- as a difficult one.
According to Dorian, coalition forces are advising and assisting Iraqi forces in the months-long battle to retake the city.
This supporting role, he explained, includes providing Iraqi forces with "assistance with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, logistics, equipment and air and artillery strikes".
"The coalition has delivered 7,511 munitions against Daesh targets," Dorian told Anadolu Agency.
"These strikes have destroyed 108 vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, 125 tunnels, 292 vehicles, 331 bunkers, 23 anti-aircraft artillery, and 234 artillery and mortar systems," he said.
‘Difficult to predict’
"It would be very difficult to accurately predict how long it will take to liberate either the eastern part of the city or Mosul in its entirety," the coalition spokesman asserted.
He went on to say that the ongoing fight for Mosul "is not a race", stressing that it would be "a hard battle for any army on this planet [to retake the city], including the U.S. Army".
Nevertheless, he was quick to emphasize that the terrorists who remain holed up in Mosul were surrounded by "superior force".
"They are being bombarded daily by coalition air and artillery strikes, and they have no ability to reinforce or resupply," he said.
Regarding the situation west of Mosul, especially in the majority-Turkmen city of Tal Afar, Dorian stressed that the coalition was only supporting the Iraqi army in the area and not the Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militia group.
"We will continue to conduct precision strikes against Daesh targets anywhere in Iraq that they can be found," Dorian said.
The army officer went on to praise the Iraqi army’s role in protecting civilians within the context of the Mosul campaign.
Last Saturday, Iraqi forces resumed their offensive in the city following a week-long hiatus.
Officials in Baghdad have vowed to recapture Mosul -- once Iraq’s second largest city in terms of population -- before year’s end.
Daesh overran Mosul, along vast swathes of territory in northern and western Iraq, in mid-2014.
"We believe the Iraqi security forces will accelerate their attack at a time of their choosing," said Dorian.
"I will not disclose the timing in the interest of protecting operational security," he added.
Reporting by Idris Okuducu; Writing by Mahmoud Barakat

Kurdish party office in Mosul turned into car-bomb workshop by ISIS

Kurdish party office in Mosul turned into car-bomb workshop by ISIS


MOSUL, Iraq--The former office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the Taamim neighborhood of Mosul has fallen to the Iraqi army two years after ISIS militants took the city.

The place has been used by the radical militants for making and preparing car bombs. Its structure has also been damaged, almost beyond recognition, perhaps set on fire before its turning into a workshop.

Before the ISIS takeover of Mosul in 2014, several Kurdish parties maintained offices in the city, mainly in the eastern part of the city where Iraqi troops have now been battling ISIS for more than two months.

Iraqi Military Losses, Civilian Displacement Numbers Below Expectations - FM

Iraqi Military Losses, Civilian Displacement Numbers Below Expectations - FM


"There are losses, but they are less than what we expected. The numbers of refugees are also less than our initial estimates. We thought there would be a million, but at this moment there are 120,000," Jaafari said.

The operation to retake Mosul from the Daesh (jihadist group has been continuing since October 17. The battle for the city began with 4,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and 30,000 Iraqi soldiers backed by the US-led anti-terror coalition advancing on the city from the east, west and south.
Mosul has been occupied by Daesh, a terrorist group outlawed in Russia and other countries, since 2014.

Outside governments that fund and supply the Daesh jihadists with advanced weapons in Iraq stand behind the terrorist group, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jaafari told Sputnik.
"The Daesh has the capability of states. They fight with enormous financial support. It is no ordinary support, it is the support of governments. Behind them are governments and their budgets," Jaafari said.

Taking this into account and without naming the "known" state sponsors of terrorism, the diplomat stressed that the Iraqi forces are trying to "drain the enemy's strength." Nonetheless, Jaafari pledged to maintain diplomatic ties with these countries.

"We hope that they come to their senses, because the rope that binds them with the terrorists will sooner or later tighten around their own neck. I hope that they will not miss the opportunity to break free from these chains," he stressed.

Iraqi Kurds have no right to redistribute land they have reclaimed from the Daesh jihadist group in Mosul, Iraqi Foreign Minister said. "The differences between provincial residents is an occasion for dialogue and respect for sovereignty, not reason for exclusion. Nobody has the right to dispose of government lands. All Iraqi people have to abide by this rule," Jaafari said.

Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani said last month that the Peshmerga had a "deal" with the United States to remain in the territories reclaimed from the Daesh.
An estimated 1,600 Peshmerga fighters are said to have been killed and more than 9,500 wounded since the Daesh swept over large parts of Iraq June 2014.
The operation to retake Mosul from the Daesh jihadist group has been continuing since October 17. The battle for the city began with 4,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and 30,000 Iraqi soldiers backed by the US-led anti-terror coalition advancing on the city from the east, west and south.

The tale of two cities: Mosul and Aleppo

The tale of two cities: Mosul and Aleppo

Two ancient cities in the Middle East, Mosul and Aleppo, have enjoyed global media attention for quite some time now. Unfortunately, it is for bad reasons. Mosul is an Iraqi city while Aleppo is in Syria. Both cities have been under siege by armed groups. While Mosul is under the control of ISIL, Aleppo has been in the hands of both ISIS and rebel groups fighting to overthrow the government of Syrian President, Bashar al Assad. The two ancient cities have been under the control of non-state actors enjoying monopoly over instruments of violence.
In recent months, there have been deliberate efforts by both Syria and Iraqi governments with the assistance of their allies to dislodge the rebel and terrorist groups from these cities. Syria is backed by Russia and Iraq has the support of the US. It is a delicate fight considering the huge presence of civilian population in the two cities.
Aleppo is a city in Syria, serving as the capital of the Aleppo governorate with a population of more than 2.3 million people. It has been divided between government held west and rebel controlled east since 19 July 2012.  Different terrorist groups including ISIS and Al Qaeda are also found in the eastern part. Some of these have been funded and trained by the United States government with a clear directive to get rid of Assad government. These groups and terrorist gangs have carved Eastern Aleppo into spheres of influence.
With the backing of Russia, the Syrian army made a break through last February by cutting the northern supply route of the rebels and terrorists from Turkey. Russia has persistently been accusing Turkey of aiding the rebels and doing business with terrorists. That singular strategic effort has down graded the capacity of the rebels and their terrorist collaborators. Consequently, there has been a steady weakening of the grip by rebels on the control of the city.
On October 6, President Bashar al Assad offered amnesty to militants to evacuate their families to safe areas to enable government forces take full control of the city. UN envoy, Staffa de Mistura offered to personally accompany the rebels. The militants rejected the proposal and the diplomat was forced to openly accuse them of holding civilian population hostage.
In September, Syria assisted by Russia launched an unprecedented bombardment on the city since six years of the war in an effort to retake control of the ancient city. The rebels and their allies cried out alleging killing of civilians. In response to the outcry, Syria and Russia forces opened humanitarian corridors to allow civilian population in Aleppo to evacuate away from the fighting. The rebels, as reported by The Independent newspaper, started shelling the area preventing civilians from fleeing the war-torn city.
The Russia government, recognizing the humanitarian implications of the fight, has been sending relief materials and medical assistance to the civilian population. But the US and its allies insist that Russia bombardment of Aleppo is targeting only civilian population. Curiously, rebels earlier this month, according to the CNN, bombed the hospital provided by the Russian government to give medical assistance to civilians.
Similarly, Mosul is a city with a huge population of over 2.5 million people. It has Sunni majority. It was taken over in 2014 by ISIL from Iraqi government and designated headquarter of the self-proclaimed caliphate which span Iraq and Syria by its leader, Abu Bakr al Bhaghdadi.
Since October 17, 2016, the Iraqi government assisted by the US and a coalition of Kurdish, Shiite and Christian militias has launched a massive military operation to retake the city from ISIL. Prior to the attack, the Iraqi government embarked on mass mobilization, which includes dropping of leaflets to inform civilians of the need to flee the besieged city.
But the terrorists, similar to what the rebels did in Aleppo, refused to allow civilians to leave. The battle has been going on for nearly two months now. There is no doubt that hundreds of civilian lives must have been lost in Mosul just like Aleppo due to tendency of rebels and terrorists to use civilians as human shield by refusing to allow them flee the city.
However, the US and its allies are downplaying the issue of civilian casualties in the Mosul operation. But they accuse Russia of committing heresy in Aleppo. Concepts like "minimize losses", "surgical strikes", "inevitable civilian casualties" and "reasonable victims" are being euphemistically used to describing what is happening in Mosul.
At the time Mosul came under attack by the US and Iraqi forces in mid October, there were over one million civilians held up there compared to the 250, 000 people left in eastern Aleppo before the current Russia-led operation to dislodge the rebels. Why the silence on civilian casualty in Mosul? Not much is being said of how many civilians that are being killed as a result of the fierce battle that has been raging in and around the city of Mosul.
Are there differences between what is happening in Mosul and that of Aleppo? Not much. The only major difference is that the US is the one leading the offensive against ISIS while Russia is the arrowhead of the operation in Aleppo. Aside from this, everything happening to regain control of the cities from the hands of non-state armed groups is the same.
This similarity has been well explained by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in an interview with journalists at the Goa summit. The modus operandi has been the same because of the delicate nature of the battleground that is in the midst of civilians. The interest of both the US and Russia is known to every discerning mind.
Russia has persistently and openly expressed its opposition to the idea of allowing the rebels who are working with many terrorist organisations to overthrow President Assad on the ground that it portends danger for its national security. Russia has been complaining of the link between ISIS and the Bandera terrorist groups in Ukraine, which has been fighting against Russia. Their fear is confirmed by the fact that the US has in the course of the conflict in Syria openly supported in cash and materials such groups like Al Nusra Front that has link with terrorist groups operating in Southern Russia.
The US on the other hand believes that the continuous stay in office of President Assad jeopardizes its national interest in the Middle- East. Deriving from this is the inexorable fact that a victory for the Russia assisted Syrian government over the rebels will diminish the stature of the US in the region.
It is from this premise that the discomfiture of the US government with the progress of the Syrian army in Aleppo can be appreciated - it is a victory for Russia. But considering the implication of the Syrian crisis to the fight against terrorism, there is a sense in which the two powerful nations, especially the US, should at this point elevate human safety and security high above geo-politics.
What the world wants now is how the terrorists in Mosul and Aleppo will be eliminated. Their activities have widespread implication in the fight against terrorism across the world, including the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria. While the US is doing everything to get ISIS out of Mosul, it should allow Russia to go ahead with its operation in Aleppo. The crisis in Syria needs to be ended because it has much to contribute to the fight against terrorism.

Top US General: Two More Years to Clear ISIS from Mosul and Raqqa

Top US General: Two More Years to Clear ISIS from Mosul and Raqqa


The defeat of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, including the capture of the cities of Mosul and Raqqa, as well as clearing the remnants from other, less important areas, will take two years, head of the joint command of the coalition forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, told The Daily Beast on Sunday. Townsend noted that the enemy is dangerous and cruel – very often terrorists use children as a human shield in order to prevent airstrikes of the coalition.

The US is wary of the legalizing the Shiite militia in Iraq, which is accused of committing war crimes against Sunnis. However, Townsend stressed that these militias have been “remarkably disciplined” allies since he arrived. In this way, the US commander allowed to understand that Washington is not going to try to change this situation, as the Shiite militia is controlled by Iran, and the US does not want to mar relations with Teheran, taking into account the active work of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Iraq, who has great connections in the Iraqi government.
Townsend stressed that “a key challenge” of the US forces in Iraq is to “assist without causing insult,” noting that “sometimes, that means getting stuck between being honest with the US media, while Iraqi generals are being less than forthcoming in a country where openly admitting mistakes or difficulties is not the done thing.”
According to the commander, the US forces are shocked by mass executions and killings on the territory, controlled by the terrorist group.

According to Townsend, terrorists actively use “blow torches, chainsaws, and even bulldozers to crush rows of people.” He also pointed out that the air force of the coalition “tries to stop such macabre displays by striking targets nearby, but that seldom helps.”
As the commander noted, the storm of Mosul is virtually suspended, as “casualties in some units” are “as high as 30 percent.”

Townsend added that the Iraqi forces are currently “moving in fresh reinforcements, ammunition, and taking time to repair vehicles broken in the headlong onslaught into western Mosul.”
According to the Lieutenant General, Americans have offered to Iraqi generals to suspend the assault in order to straighten out the advancing units up, but the Iraqi side insisted on continuation of the assault with the former group that has led to pointless attempts to break through the defense of the IS in the eastern neighborhoods of Mosul, while two Iraqi divisions bogged down to south of the city and could not help the storm.
As the commander noted, “Iraqi army is learning to send its tanks into battle into the city.” He also added that the US forces did not train Iraqi soldiers to do that and “they are learning to do it in combat.”

Townsend said that one of “the largest threat the Iraqi forces face comes from armored car bombs.” He also added that “now the Iraqi ground forces are learning to clear houses alongside tank units, with the tank units protecting their progress from armored car bombs, or blasting holes in the side of houses so ground forces can pour in to clear them without going through booby trapped doors.”
The Lieutenant General had praise for the “rapid progress of the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces [PMF] – mostly Shiite militias, who stormed up to the outskirts of ISIS stronghold Tel Afar, west of Mosul, keeping off fighters from traveling back and forth with supplies or information.”

 In general, the US has already resigned to the fact that the blitzkrieg did not take place in Mosul, and the war in Iraq will continue for a long time. Nobody remembers about an optimistic forecast of the Pentagon, according to which Mosul and Raqqa should be taken in 2016. Washington even prefer not to call a specific time frame – an assault of Raqqa can begin in the spring of 2017, while the storm of Mosul obviously will be delayed for several months.

Iraqi forces in Mosul reinforced, new push against IS soon

Iraqi forces in Mosul reinforced, new push against IS soon

Dec. 28, 2016 

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Iraqi forces stalled for weeks on the edges of Mosul have been bolstered by reinforcements and are now ready, along with elite special forces, to launch a stepped up, three-pronged assault against Islamic State group militants in the city's eastern sector, ending a two-week lull in fighting, a top Iraqi general told The Associated Press.

The planned assault aims in part to overcome stiff resistance by the militants that has slowed advances in the more than 2-month-old offensive to recapture the northern city, the last main bastion of the Islamic State group in Iraq.
In an attempt to isolate militants in the eastern sector from those in the western half of Mosul, warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition destroyed the last remaining bridge over the Tigris River, which runs through city center.

So far in the Mosul offensive, Iraq's counterterrorism forces, which are by far the military's most battle seasoned unit, have done most of the fighting, pushing in from the east. But regular army troops on the city's southeast and northern edges, as well as federal police farther west, have not moved in weeks, unable to penetrate the city either because they are not equipped or trained to fight on the streets or because of inadequate resources.
Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, commander of the counterterrorism forces in eastern Mosul, said in an interview Tuesday night that units of the federal police have joined units from the military's 9th Division southeast of Mosul, while troops have taken positions alongside units from the army's 16th Division on the north side.

Al-Saadi would not say when the advance would begin. But it appeared likely within days, weather permitting. He would not give details on the size of the reinforcements.
The new reinforcements suggest that original plans to penetrate the city's western side have been abandoned and that the plan was now for all forces to push on in the eastern sector.
The bridge hit this week was the last remaining of five bridges across the Tigris between the western and eastern halves. Activists inside Mosul published photos Tuesday night showing the twisted girders of the bridge in the water as boats ferried residents back and forth. The Old Bridge, as it is known, was built in the 1930s and is considered one of the city's iconic landmarks.
The damage is expected to further complicate life inside Mosul. A resident said people waiting by the banks to be ferried across ran for cover every time they heard a plane buzzing overheard, fearing further airstrikes.

The counterterrorism forces, also known as the "Golden Division," have taken a string of neighborhoods in eastern Mosul and are now less than 3 kilometers (2 miles) away from the Tigris River, which slices the city in half. But they have moved little the past two weeks, apparently waiting for the reinforcements.

They have faced grueling urban fighting, often house to house against IS militants who have had more than two years to dig in and prepare. Even in districts that have been wrested away from IS, Iraqi troops have faced surprise attacks, shelling and car bombs. The extremists have launched more than 900 car bombs against Iraqi troops so far during the operation in Mosul and surrounding areas in Nineveh province. Al-Saadi said 260 of these targeted his men.

"Daesh has by now realized that the battle is in the eastern sector of Mosul, and that's where most of its forces are," said al-Saadi, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.
He denied reports that the lull in fighting was caused by a higher-than-expected casualties among his men. "We have sustained casualties, but not much," he said. "We will also be reinforced by new members of the counterterrorism forces," he said, without elaborating.

The presence of an estimated one million civilians inside Mosul is partly to blame for the slow progress in the battle since Iraqi forces and their allies in the U.S.-led coalition have avoided the use of overwhelming firepower against the militants for fear of massive civilian casualties. About 120,000 people have fled the city since the offensive began, according to the United Nations.
"Daesh snipers shoot at us from the rooftops of homes occupied by families. We can only use light arms against them so as not to hurt the civilians," he explained. "They fire from side streets lined by homes. Again, we can only use light arms."

A new menace in the fight was the growing use by IS of drones, mostly armed with bombs or grenades that they drop on troops or civilians, he said.
Al-Saadi said he expected Mosul and the rest of Nineveh province to be totally rid of IS in about three months. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi spoke last week of a need to revise the battle plans in Mosul. On Tuesday, he told a news conference: "God willing, there will be good news in the coming days," he said

Bittersweet Christmas for Iraqi Christians near Mosul

Bittersweet Christmas for Iraqi Christians near Mosul


Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Resistance Axis Made the Most of Power Transition in US: Analyst

Resistance Axis Made the Most of Power Transition in US: Analyst

December, 27, 2016 

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - A Lebanese military analyst hailed the axis of resistance for its victories in the fight against terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, saying the major gains in the cities of Aleppo and Mosul were achieved amid a political turbulence in the US in the last weeks of Obama’s tenure.

In an interview with the Tasnim News Agency, General Amin Hoteit, a former brigadier general of the Lebanese army and a political analyst and military strategy expert, praised the axis of resistance for handling the war on terrorism “skillfully and smartly” and for taking advantage of the US confusion about its military policies toward the Middle East.
The coalition of resistance cleverly managed to use the unstable political situation in the US and press ahead with its plans on two fronts, namely Syria’s Aleppo and Iraq’s Mosul, he added.
Although the military operation to liberate Mosul from the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group is still unfinished, the mission laid the foundation for a battle against terrorism in Iraq regardless of the civil war in Syria, Hoteit noted.

He further described the Syrian army’s success to recapture the northwestern city of Aleppo as a “strategic and historic victory” that created new circumstances in Syria and West Asia.
“Apart from its military achievements, the liberation of Aleppo thwarted all US hostile plots against Syria,” the analyst pointed out, referring to ploys to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government or disintegrate the Arab country.

 Hoteit finally noted that the victories the axis of resistance has gained in the battlefield are so great that the next US president will not be able to reverse the situation.
The axis of resistance refers to an anti-Israeli and anti-terrorism coalition made up of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Palestine and even Yemeni forces.

In a statement on December 22, Syria’s army announced it has regained full control over Aleppo, clearing the city from foreign-backed terrorist groups after a four-year battle.
Syria has been gripped by civil war since March 2011 with various terrorist groups, including Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL), currently controlling parts of it.
Meanwhile, an Iraqi military operation to retake Mosul from terrorists has entered its third month. Mosul has been occupied by Daesh since 2014.

IS ‘summarily executed’ 13 near Mosul

IS ‘summarily executed’ 13 near Mosul

MOSUL - Islamic State group fighters "summarily executed" 13 civilians after villagers rose up against them at the start of the Iraqi army's offensive to retake Mosul, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. The killings took place in the villages of Al-Hud and Al-Lazzagah, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Mosul on October 17, the day government forces launched the massive operation to oust the jihadists from the city.

"ISIS responded to the village uprising by unlawfully executing people captured in the uprising and civilians who weren't involved," Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said in a statement.

"Security forces who capture ISIS fighters should properly investigate their participation in alleged war crimes like these," she said, using an alternate acronym for the jihadist group.
In total, the IS fighters "summarily executed at least 13 people including two boys," HRW said.
The report included the picture of one of the slain boys, a 13-year-old who had not been involved in the uprising, it said, citing his father Muhammad.
IS had captured Al-Hud and Al-Lazzagah in June 2014, with villagers saying they lived in constant fear of punishment, including death, for activities like smoking and using mobile phones, said HRW.

As Iraqi forces closed in on the morning of October 17, about 30 villagers attacked the jihadists, killing 19 of them, said the New York-based watchdog.
IS fighters began the execution-style killings in the afternoon, leaving bodies lying in the streets.
Iraqi forces entered Al-Lazzagah that evening and Al-Hud the next morning.
Human Rights Watch called on Iraqi security forces to "appropriately investigate incidents of alleged war crimes so that those responsible, if in government custody, can be fairly prosecuted".

After seizing control of large parts of Iraq and neighbouring Syria in mid-2014, IS declared a cross-border "caliphate", imposed its harsh interpretation of Islamic law and committed widespread atrocities.

Iraqi forces have been tightening the noose around Mosul since launching the offensive.



VIDEO: Iraqi army confiscates explosives, alcohol used by IS in Mosul

VIDEO: Iraqi army confiscates explosives, alcohol used by IS in Mosul

26 December 2016

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – The Iraqi army and Special Forces on Monday confiscated weapons, explosives, religious books, and alcohol used by Islamic State (IS) extremists in Mosul.
A Kurdistan24 reporter embedded with the Iraqi army explored a house in al-Taa’mim neighborhood in the last IS stronghold in Iraq.The house contained weapons, explosive elements, documents, religious books, clothes, and alcoholic drinks belonging to IS insurgents.

A Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi Special Forces told Kurdistan24 IS extremists used home-made weapons and highly explosive devices such as sulfur. Moreover, the discovery of alcohol contradicts the hard-lined extremist group's beliefs. In many cases, the insurgents banned the use of alcohol in cities under their control.
The Iraqi army’s advance to retake Mosul had been suspended for several days as the troops and the US-led coalition were planning another strategy to begin the second phase of the offensive.
On Oct. 17, Iraqi and Peshmerga forces with the support of the US-led coalition warplanes launched the military operation to retake Mosul from IS. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, since the beginning of the offensive, 40 neighborhoods on the left coast of Mosul had been freed.


Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi Receives Shi’ite Cleric Muqtda al-Sadr

Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi Receives Shi’ite Cleric Muqtda al-Sadr

December 27, 2016 

Baghdad – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi received on Monday shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who in recent months led a series of anti-government demonstrations.
The meeting was the first between the two men since February, when Sadr called for the dismissal of Abadi’s cabinet. The meeting tackled a number of political and security issues, particularly the war against ISIS and ongoing operations to retake the city of Mosul from the terrorist group, according to a statement issued by Abadi’s office.

Abadi stressed on the importance of all of Iraq’s components in fighting ISIS. He pointed out that the government seeks to actively provide services to the Iraqi people.
He continued to say that the troops are advancing steadily in the battle of Mosul with great cooperation from the civilians, adding that the government is working to minimize casualties among civilians and troops.

In turn, Sadr said that the meeting tackled the support of the Iraqi army to complete the liberation of Mosul and the needed reforms. He pointed out that there is no compromise with the killers on the expense of the people. Sadr condemned the attack which happened during a celebration of al-Dawa Party in Basra, noting that the party wants to maintain a good relation with al-Dawa Party. He stressed that the attack on the people is unacceptable.

Sadr supporters protested al-Maliki’s recent visit, and accused him of killing hundreds of soldiers when ISIS took control of Speicher Camp in Tikrit in June 2014. The protesters stormed into a gathering of al-Dawa party, which was attended by Maliki, and they were forced to leave after they threatened of another Battle of Basra. Meanwhile, speaking to Rudaw, MP Nizam al-Saedi described the visit as important and could solve several problems.

He added that Sadr is one of Iraq’s influential political figures, adding that the meeting with PM is a proof that Iraq is united. He denied the rumors of a coalition between Abadi and Sadr against Maliki.
When asked whether the meeting between Abadi and Sadr would put an end to the Friday demonstrations, Saedi didn’t expect this to happen, but he described the visit as historical and capable of solving many issues.

Ministry: nearly 19.000 refugees returned home since Mosul battles start

Ministry: nearly 19.000 refugees returned home since Mosul battles start

Baghdad ( The number of refugees who returned to their homes in the city of Mosul has reached nearly 19.000 since security operations launched in October to retake Iraq’s second largest city from Islamic State militants, the Ministry of Migration and Displacement said on Tuesday.

Minister Mohamed Jassem al-Jaff said in a statement that 18.748 people returned home in different areas in the provinces of Mosul, Salahuddin and Kirkuk since the start of operations by Iraqi government forces, US-led coalition forces and popular mobilization militias.
The ministry’s latest count of refugees from Mosul and Kirkuk had stood at at least 125.000 refugees. The United Nations estimates the number of internally displaced people in Iraq by at least 3.5 million, and had voiced concerns over the fate of one million Iraqis upon the announcement of launching operations to retake Mosul.

Many refugees have reportedly been enduring food and medicine shortages as well as unfavorable weather conditions at refugee camps, and some have been reported dead due to those difficulties.
Rights organizations and news reports have said that Islamic State militants intentionally target refugees upon their escape from battlefields, and in some cases executed those who attempted to flee the group’s strongholds

Women displaced by Daesh are turning their tents into homes

Women displaced by Daesh are turning their tents into homes

Dec 27, 2016

Two months after fleeing Daesh in Mosul, women are back together, trying to make the best out of the dire conditions in the camps by utilising their tents.
They have divided the tents in the Hassan Al Sham camp in Erbil's Kalak district into different rooms - for cooking, sleeping and for storing their goods.
Many arrived to the camp with nothing, and they have limited access to basic necessities. Pregnant women are worried for their children’s future.  
They say they are not hopeful that the situation will change anytime soon.
TRT World’s Abir Ahmar reports from Northern Iraq.


Iraq Education Cluster Mosul Humanitarian Response Sitrep No 12: 26 December 2016

26 Dec 2016

  • A total of 24 Temporary Learning Spaces (TLSs) have been completed in all the camps, with a significant number planned for establishment in the next couple of months.
  • A total of 10,479 children displaced by recent fighting have been enrolled in Temporary Learning Spaces (TLSs) in camps and in Rehabilitated Classrooms in Tikrit and Alam during the reporting period.
  • Among the recently displaced people by the Mosul emergency, 39,370 of the IDPs are school age children that have been forced out of school since the start of the milliatary offensive in October. Unfortunately this number is rapidly increasing as the displacements continues.

Iraqi Popular Forces Repel Massive Attack by Daesh, Kill 30 Militants

Iraqi Popular Forces Repel Massive Attack by Daesh, Kill 30 Militants

December, 27, 2016 

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi, foiled an attack launched by the Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) Takfiri group on a village west of the northern city of Mosul, killing over 30 of the foreign-backed terrorists.

The Daesh terrorists launched the attack on Ayn al Hisan village in the western suburbs of Mosul, according to the Arabic language Al Mayadeen TV network. In an operation, the popular forces successfully repulsed the offensive and inflicted heavy losses on the Takfiri militants, who had attempted to open their routes to Syrian borders.

The Hashd al-Shaabi forces managed to kill more than 30 Daesh terrorists and destroy 7 armored vehicles, the report said. It came as the Iraqi army and Popular Mobilization Units backed by Kurdish Peshmerga forces continue their operations to liberate Mosul from the foreign-backed terrorists.
They launched a joint operation on October 17 to retake Mosul.
Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the capital of Nineveh Province, fell into the hands of Daesh in June 2014.

Yearender: How children of Middle East spend their 2016

Yearender: How children of Middle East spend their 2016

Published: 2016/12/27 

A boy sits on the aid box in Mosul city, Iraq, on Nov. 20, 2016. The Iraq counter-terrorism forces on Sunday escorted aid to some districts of Mosul city and distributed them to the civilians. Iraqi security forces recaptured a town and two villages in south of the city of Mosul on Nov. 19, while special forces fought heavy clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants as they pushed deeper into the eastern part of the city. (Xinhua/Liu Wanli)

Mosul’s Passage of Death

Mosul’s Passage of Death

27 December, 2016

ISIL announced that the western bank of Mosul is (Dar Al-Islam) (the land of the believers) and the eastern bank is (Dar Al-Kufr) (the land of the infidals), and anyone trues to cross to the eastern bank will be considered a “Kafir” (an infidal) and death is what one would face trying to cross. Mosulis risk a lot to cross to the eastern bank where the liberated areas are, and the cost they pay is too high.
The cost to cross is death, and staying at the western bank means death too. Families tried to cross over through the narrow passage that is less than a meter wide of the collapsed fifth bridge, but their attempt cost them their lives; ISIL killed the family’s father and took his wife and children just because they tried to flee ISIL.

Those who live on the western bank of Mosul are living death in every moment, where there is no water,no power, no food, no fuel, and no peace. Mosul is now torn down on the middle of both its sides. Those who stayed on the eastern bank are living under ISIL’s mortar shells and snipers, and those who live on the western bank are seiged, trying everything to escape death with no success.
They lost the last string of hope, and the last string to safety and peace.

Iraqi Forces And ISIS Clashing For Al-Quds District Of Mosul

Iraqi Forces And ISIS Clashing For Al-Quds District Of Mosul


ISIS had been using al-Quds as a foothold for a series of counter-attacks against ISF in eastern Mosul. ISF is seeking to retake thedistrict in order to straighten the front line and to avoid further damage from ISIS offensive actions in the area.


Exclusive: Fresh advance in east Mosul to begin within days – U.S. commander

Exclusive: Fresh advance in east Mosul to begin within days – U.S. commander

December 27, 2016

EAST OF MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi forces will resume their push against Islamic State inside Mosul in the coming days, a U.S. battlefield commander said, in a new phase of the two-month-old operation that will see American troops deployed closer to the front line in the city.

The battle for Mosul, involving 100,000 Iraqi troops, members of the Kurdish security forces and Shi’ite militiamen, is the biggest ground operation in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. The upcoming phase appears likely to give American troops their biggest combat role since they fulfilled President Barack Obama’s pledge to withdraw from Iraq in 2011.

Elite Iraqi soldiers have retaken a quarter of Mosul, the jihadists’ last major stronghold in Iraq, but their advance has been slow and punishing. They entered a planned “operational refit” this month, the first significant pause of the campaign.

A heavily armoured unit of several thousand federal police was redeployed from the southern outskirts two weeks ago to reinforce the eastern front after army units advised by the Americans suffered heavy losses in an Islamic State counter-attack.
U.S. advisers, part of an international coalition that has conducted thousands of air strikes and trained tens of thousands of Iraqi ground troops, will work directly with those forces and an elite Interior Ministry strike force.

“Right now we’re staging really for the next phase of the attack as we start the penetration into the interior of east Mosul,” Lieutenant Colonel Stuart James, commander of a combat arms battalion assisting Iraqi security forces on the southeastern front, said in a Reuters interview late on Sunday.

“So right now, positioning forces and positioning men and equipment into the interior of east Mosul… it’s going to happen in the next several days.”
That will put U.S. troops inside of Mosul proper and at greater risk, though James said the danger level was still characterized as “moderate”. Three U.S. servicemen have been killed in northern Iraq in the past 15 months.

James, speaking from an austere outpost east of Mosul where several hundred U.S. troops are stationed, said the pace of the upcoming phase on the eastern side would depend on resistance from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.
“If we achieve great success on the first day and we gain momentum, then it may go very quickly. If Daesh fights very hard the first day and we run into a roadblock and we have to go back and go OK that was not the correct point of penetration, it may take longer,” he said.


Further integration with the Iraqi troops – to what commanders described as an unprecedented level for conventional U.S. forces – will help synchronize surveillance, air support and force movement, according to James.

“It increases our situational understanding. The man on the ground knows what’s going on best,” he said. “It’s just better when they’re on the ground talking to each other and saying, ‘Hey, have you looked at that area over there? That’s decisive terrain. Have you thought about putting forces there?'”
Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State anywhere across its once vast territorial holdings in Iraq and neighboring Syria, has been held by the group since its fighters drove the U.S.-trained army out in June 2014.

Its fall would probably end Islamic State’s ambition to rule over millions of people in a self-styled caliphate, but the fighters could still mount a traditional insurgency in Iraq, and plot or inspire attacks on the West.

A multi-ethnic city where up to 1.5 million people of a pre-war population of around 2 million are still thought to be living, Mosul is divided roughly in half by the Tigris River. The western section, which Iraqi forces have yet to penetrate, has built-up markets and ancient narrow alleyways which will complicate future advances.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had said he would win Mosul back by the end of this year, a deadline now certain to be missed. His commanders say their advance was held up by the need to protect civilians, fewer of whom fled than initially expected.
Inclement weather has repeatedly delayed ground advances which rely heavily on aerial surveillance and air strikes.

There’s good news in Mosul — for now

There’s good news in Mosul — for now


The horrific stories from Aleppo — the bombings of pediatric hospitals, the executions of fleeing women and children, the thousands of men disappeared or press-ganged into military service — have obscured something of a good news story unfolding just a couple of hundred miles away across the Syria-Iraq border, in Mosul.

Humanitarian agencies and human rights monitors say they have been shocked — in a good way — by the behavior of the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces that are slowly recapturing the city from the Islamic State. Elite counter-terrorism troops are moving street by street through tightly packed neighborhoods where hundreds of thousands of people are still living — only slightly more than 100,000 of Mosul’s more than 1 million people have fled to camps outside the city. Facing scores of suicide bombers, barrages of rockets and deadly snipers, the Iraqis are taking heavy casualties — so much so that the government protested when the United Nations reported that nearly 2,000 security force members were killed in November alone.

Yet so far at least, the invading force has sought to protect rather than slaughter the local population. There is no indiscriminate bombing or shelling of apartment buildings; no executions of women and children; no mass disappearances of men. In the camps, a majority of refugees are saying that their needs are mostly being met and that they are better off than they were under the Islamic State, according to a survey by the Norwegian Refugee Council. “It’s remarkable how well civilians have been treated,” says Belkis Wille, the Iraq researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Iraqi security forces are behaving well.”

This is not to say that civilians are not being harmed. The U.N. reported that nearly 900 were killed in and around Mosul in October and November. But most of the casualties have been inflicted by the Islamic State. In contrast, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says it has documented 19,000 killed and wounded in Aleppo since April, including 1,600 civilians killed by Russian and Syrian government airstrikes. The Mosul difference may not last: The fight is an ugly one that could go on for months. For now, though, the world is witnessing two radically different models for the recapture of Arab cities. In Aleppo, there is the scorched-earth, indiscriminate-massacre paradigm of Russia, Iran and the regime of Bashar al-Assad; and in Mosul there is the civilian protection strategy embraced by the Iraqi government of Haidar al-Abadi under U.S. tutelage.

Several questions arise from this. Apart from the large savings in human lives, will the different strategies lead to different political outcomes? Will the humane treatment of Sunnis in Iraq create a chance for political reconciliation that Syria does not have? And will the disparity between Russian-Iranian brutality and U.S.-Iraqi humaneness make any difference to other Arab regimes, global opinion or, for that matter, incoming president Donald Trump?
In Iraq, it’s hard to be optimistic that the Shiite-led government will come to terms with the Sunni and Kurdish minorities after the Islamic State is defeated. A recent report by the Institute for the Study of War says a new Sunni insurgency could rise up after Mosul is recaptured, perhaps led by a revived version of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist movement, or by al-Qaeda. That’s because the military restraint of the Abadi government in Mosul has not been accompanied by meaningful political outreach to Sunni leaders.

Still, international monitors in Mosul see hopeful signs. The Norwegian Refugee Council said its interviews in the camps outside Mosul showed that the majority of displaced people were “upbeat” and “believed their families would live in comfort and safety in Iraq in the future.” A slight majority of respondents said they expected more conflict in Iraq rather than peace and security, but the council said that looked good compared with the “overwhelming consensus” on conflict it expected.
Wille says that the decent treatment of Mosul civilians “is reinforcing the belief of those just out of ISIS control that the state is indeed there to protect and care for them . . . which bodes better for the social contract going forward.” Mosul’s post-Islamic State leaders could have the leeway to work with the Abadi government without appearing traitorous to the locals.

Trump’s early decisions about the Middle East could reinforce or reverse the positive trend. Will he stick with the slow-but-humane strategy in Mosul, or will he demand that the city and its terrorist defenders be bombed, Putin style? Will he leave U.S. forces in Iraq after Mosul is recaptured, or withdraw and leave another vacuum for Iran or al-Qaeda? Will he join Russia’s scorched-earth campaign in Syria? The humanitarians quietly celebrating Mosul now have much to fear in the near future.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Shia Militias of Iraq

The Shia Militias of Iraq

Dec 22, 2016 

KARBALA, Iraq—Along the road joining the cities of Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq is a line of placards, attached at 50-meter intervals to every lamppost. Each one shows the face of a volunteer killed in the fight against the Islamic State. But these are not the faces of Iraqi army soldiers. They are the faces of fighters from the Hash’d al Shaabi, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) created via fatwa by the senior-most cleric in Shia Islam, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in response to the fall of Mosul in 2014. Sistani declared the fight against the Islamic State “a sacred defense,” and promised that “whoever of you sacrifices himself to defend his country and his family and their honor will be a martyr.”

Today, the PMF is estimated to boast over 60,000 fighters, contributing 35,000 men to the 90,000-strong force currently besieging Mosul. The PMF has played a key role in the attacks on Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baiji, and recently spearheaded the Iraqi advance on Tal Afar, just west of Mosul. But despite the PMF’s importance to the war effort, its status remains ambiguous. On November 26, the Iraqi government passed legislation making the PMF an official component of Iraq’s security forces, subject to military law, with equal status to the army. But two days later, a senior Iraqi MP told me that “the bill is what we’re working towards; it will take time.” Full integration, then, is still some way off.

Members of the PMF refer to theirs as a movement of national liberation, or as a religious crusade against evil. International media have described the group as a “mostly Iranian-backed coalition of Shia militias,” barely controlled by the Iraqi state. Neither description is entirely correct. The PMF itself embodies many of the fault lines of modern Iraq, divided between religious and national identities, state and non-state actors, and private and foreign interests. The 40 core units that make up the PMF range from the Abbas Division, controlled by Sistani but closely aligned with the government and trained by Iraq’s special forces; to the Peace Brigades, loyal to the Iraqi cleric and politician Moqtada al-Sadr; to the Badr Organization, an Iranian proxy militia. Roughly half of the PMF units were formed out of pre-existing Iraqi militias, some of which fought against coalition forces after the 2003 invasion. The rest are new formations, mobilized by Sistani or Iraqi politicians.

The PMF is, itself, a process—a struggle for control over a myriad of armed groups. It could become the basis for a new Iraqi army, with much stronger ties to the communities it is supposed to protect; in Shia areas at least, the PMF are held in higher regard than the army. Or its ascension could lead Iraqi politics into an era of warlordism, in which party factions wield private armies. The worst outcome would see Iraq remain a battlefield, beset by proxies funded by Iran and Gulf countries.

The future of the PMF as an institution has massive implications Iraq. For many members of the PMF, the legitimacy of their struggle is derived from Sistani’s fatwa. If he withdraws it, and the units under his control demobilize, the PMF will be a set of Iranian proxies and political militias, officially part of the state, but not under its control. Alternatively, if corruption drives a wedge between the Iraqi government and Iraq’s clerical establishment, the loyalty of PMF units raised by the Shia shrines could be tested.


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Former YPJ, Peshmerga Volunteer's Life Put At Risk By False '$1M ISIS Reward' Report

Former YPJ, Peshmerga Volunteer's Life Put At Risk By False '$1M ISIS Reward' Report

20/12/2016 - 16:33

The life of a former Women's Protection Units (YPJ) and Peshmarga volunteer, Joanna Palani, has been put in danger after several Kurdish media outlets published news saying the Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL) had put a $1 million bounty for her death, say friends. The report, first published on Rudaw, did not give any sources for the claim but was then picked up by NRT who based it on a non-existent report on the Peshmerga Spokesman Jabar Yawar's website.

Since then international news outlets such as the UK Sun have also picked up on the story. The jihadist group IS has not made a statement about the issue. Friends of Palani, who has been jailed in Denmark for breaking a travel ban imposed on her after fighting against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, are concerned the false news may endanger her life.

Speaking to, a friend of the woman who didn't want to be named said, "I'm shocked, I mean how can people report this without sources. They are putting her life in danger, don't they realise this? What if she is attacked in Denmark?" Palani had told Vice earlier this year that she had been receiving threats. “It’s very difficult for me, as there many people who are against me still in Copenhagen – some IS people," she had said.

Palani recently recorded a video from prison calling on people to support the Kurdish forces fighting the IS group in Syria and Iraq. She is expected to be remanded in custody for at least six months.

Monday, 19 December 2016

ISIS Media Release Week 9

Battle for Mosul: A day in the life of a field hospital

Battle for Mosul: A day in the life of a field hospital

19 December 2016 10:20 UTC

An armoured Humvee hurtles out of eastern Mosul at speed. It veers past fleeing civilians, sounding the horn and screeching to a halt outside the field hospital.
The day’s fighting has begun, bringing with it the first casualties.
Soldiers, white with masonry dust from the explosion of an Islamic State (IS) mortar, pile out and lift wounded civilians from the vehicle. A teenage girl, her face heavily bandaged, is carried inside. She is silent but her mother wails inconsolably, crying: “A mortar, a mortar, my girl, my child.” The medics unwind bandages to reveal a jaw laceration, around which her face is already swelling. While one stems the bleeding, another cuts off hunks of her blood-clotted hair to better access a deep head wound.

In the outer courtyard, where most casualties are treated, medics cut the blood-soaked shirt off a middle-aged man, wounded in the head, the hand, the back and the abdomen.
On the adjacent bed, another man lies on his side, veined intestines bulging out from a shrapnel wound.

A man outside can be heard shouting: “My daughter, my daughter, she lost both her arms. A curse upon Daesh. A curse upon them.”
On a camp bed, a small boy sits cross-legged, wrapped in a metallic space blanket, watching the chaos unfolding around him with an expressionless face.

The medics work. More wounded arrive

These are the Mosul civilians caught up in the city’s violent battle between IS militants and Iraqi armed forces. Living on the front lines, they are under constant threat of a stray IS mortar, the huge explosion of a car bomb in a narrow nearby street or sniper-fire if they venture outside their gates. Chief medic Captain Nizar Jawad tells MEE that the field hospital, in the city’s Gojelli suburb, treats an average of 75 to 100 civilians every day.
Even while medics are stabilising patients, patching up wounds sufficiently to transfer them to Erbil hospital  a two-hour drive along 86km of battered, war-scarred tarmac  more Humvees arrive.

“Askeri, askeri!” ("Soldier, soldier!") shouts Jawad  a warning to both the medics inside and the journalists outside. The Iraqi government has remained tight-lipped about military casualties, of whom journalists are forbidden to take pictures. And the medics need to rapidly make space for the freshly injured. They help bandaged-up civilians out into waiting ambulances, the wounded passing the wounded.

Another Humvee. More soldiers. Some are carried, others half dragged in, held up by comrades. As clothing is cut away, rough bandages removed and IV drips fitted, the air fills with noise  screams from the injured, medics shouting for dressings, asking for soldiers’ names. The critically injured are silent. The medics work fast, blood dripping on to the tiled floor among soaked bandages and torn clothing.

One soldier in his twenties lies trembling on the camp bed, while medics start pushing wadding into entry and exit wounds in his bicep. Lifting his arm, they discover the bullet passed through his arm and lodged somewhere in his armpit. Gloved fingers push more wadding into the armpit wound but it does not stem the crimson trickling down the soldier’s side. One nurse tries to find a vein to insert an IV drip and another gently moves his face as the man slips out of consciousness.

Two young soldiers have mortar shrapnel in their legs. One lies on a camp bed, the other props himself up on the floor nearby, removing his friend’s scarf and smoothing sweat-drenched hair back from his forehead, whispering words of comfort. Their wounds are treated briskly and his friend is shifted on to the floor beside him, to make way for another soldier, blood pouring from his arm, despite the makeshift tourniquet secured around his bicep with a stick. The two soldiers with their legs bandaged lean against one another, sharing cigarettes in the silence of shock.
As fast as the medics can work, more wounded are arriving. More soldiers and more civilians. They are running out of saline solution for the drips.

Preserving dignity, even in death

Among the casualties, there is little time to give attention to the dead. An abandoned Humvee stands outside the field hospital, its doors still open from the desperate scramble to get the wounded out. On its bonnet lie three civilian corpses, wrapped in blankets. The feet of one man protrude from a brightly coloured blanket, crossed at the ankles as though in rest. Blood from another drips through the engine of the Humvee, pooling on the sand beneath.

In the back of a nearby Toyota truck, a soldier shouts for dressings. At his feet lies a dead soldier, his face horribly torn open. “I want a proper dressing,” he shouts, throwing a bandage to one side. He tenderly dresses the face of his dead comrade, trying to preserve his dignity, even in death.
The walking wounded are being helped into ambulances, where they are propped up on bench seats. Stretcher cases are laid on the floor of the older ambulances. When there are no more ambulances, the wounded are loaded into a military vehicle.

“We’ve already treated 40 patients today. At least half were in a critical condition, but we saved their lives,” says 33-year-old Slovakian medic Marek Adamik, one of a team of six volunteer medics working for the Slovakian NGO Academy of Emergency Medicine. They are the only international medics working in Mosul.
“Most injuries are ballistic, from mortars and other explosives, or from snipers,” he said. “And sometimes there are amputations, if a soldier has stepped on a mine, or if a house has taken a direct hit from a mortar.”

'There are highs and lows, peaks and valleys'

A tiny three-wheeler truck veers towards the hospital, a white flag fluttering above it. In the back, a man in a pink T-shirt soaked in blood cradles a boy in his lap. Blood gushes from the boy’s face and he yells in pain as the medics try to clean the wound. The man in the pink T-shirt crouches on the ground outside, weeping, his face contorted in grief-stricken agony.
Even before staff have finished washing the blood from the floor, another Humvee arrives carrying 37-year-old Shahlan, shot by a sniper. He clenches his teeth in silence as American Pete Reed, the chief medic for the Slovakian NGO, uses a scalpel to cut out a bullet head lodged in his calf. Reed tucks the bullet into Shalan’s shirt pocket, and lights them both cigarettes.

“There are highs and lows, peaks and valleys, and that was a peak,” says Reed. “The valleys are the patients who don’t make it. That happens a lot and more than half of those are civilians.”
The flow of casualties ceases as the sun sets and the field hospital falls silent. Medical staff restock supplies in the courtyard. Outside others set alight the heaps of bloodied bandages and clothing they have piled up during the day.

Iraqis create market in mud of displaced camp

Iraqis create market in mud of displaced camp

December 19, 2016, 9:29 pm

Khazir (Iraq) (AFP) - Mobile phones, cartons of cigarettes and fresh mutton are all on sale inside a camp for Iraqi civilians displaced in the battle to recapture Mosul -- if they have the money.
In the Khazir camp, buyers trudge in the mud, skidding around in flimsy shoes and examining improvised market stalls on the ground between tents that shelter thousands of people.
Behind his makeshift display of mobile phones and USB cables, 28-year-old Waad Khalaf grins. Buyers are permanently flocking to his stall, he says.
Under the Islamic State jihadist group, "having a mobile meant prison so now everybody needs to buy one," he says, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his fake leather jacket to warm them.
The former labourer escaped his home town of Gogjali on the outskirts of Mosul in northern Iraq in November as fighting raged there between Iraqi forces and IS fighters.
Selling phones for up to around 130,000 Iraqi dinars ($100) each allows him to buy warm winter clothes and shoes for his daughter and son, says the father-of-two.
Khalaf and his wife can then also afford to buy medicine from Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan several dozen kilometres to the east, he says.
Not far away in the improvised market, Khalaf's clients can charge their new phone by plugging it in to a multi-socket extension cord linked to a generator.
In a camp with just four hours of electricity a day, savvy young entrepreneurs are asking for the equivalent of around 40 US cents for an hour of power from the roaring machine.
Khalaf has only been selling his phones for three days but Farhan Yassin says he was one of the first salesmen at the improvised market.
It happened "just like that", he says. "We never spoke to each other but somehow we all ended up here."
- Snipping skills -
For 12 days, Yassin has been selling cigarettes as a way of returning to normality after living under the jihadists.
He lost his shop in Mosul after IS closed it down and made him pay the equivalent of around $1,300 for selling cigarettes, he says, which were just as sinful as mobile phones under their ultra-conservative rule.
He now sells each packet of cigarettes for around 500 dinars (around 40 US cents) after buying them in bulk in Arbil.
Ammar, a barber, also left Mosul last month when anti-IS forces arrived at the gates of Iraq's jihadist-held second city.

He was only able to smuggle a pair of scissors into his bag as he fled and had to buy all the rest of his equipment in Arbil.
Seating his clients in front of a mirror, he uses his new gear to trim their beards or snip away at their hair.

His customers "pay what they want as nobody has work", he says, plastic comb in hand, bags of vegetables left behind on his small table as payment.
The 26-year-old history graduate was unable to work as a teacher under IS as the group set up its own schools, says the young man, whose head is wrapped tightly in a scarf under a hood to keep out the bitter cold.

When he could not find work at a camp school either, he again resorted to his snipping skills to support his young daughter "who needs diapers and powder milk".
Not far from where he cuts hair, powder milk is on sale next to sanitary pads, underwear, metal cutlery and fizzy drinks for those with money.
Cash is in rare supply among the roughly three million people displaced by fighting in Iraq.

But one couple has found a solution. They slip bags of rice and lentils they have received as aid through the fence surrounding the camp to people on the other side who buy them for a few precious bank notes.

Battle for Mosul: 'I miss everything there'

Battle for Mosul: 'I miss everything there'

19 December 2016

Baghdad, Iraq - Karam Hassawy has Mosul on his mind.
For two years in enforced exile in Turkey, he has frequently thought about every street, every smell and every sound of the place he calls home. He hopes against hope that everything will be the same when he returns.

"I have not forgotten Mosul - since the moment I left the city, I wander in its streets and alleys every day in my mind," Hassawy, 25, told Al Jazeera. "Whenever I feel nostalgic, I go for a walk in its old alleys and smell the famous Mosul food that I have not tasted for more than two years.

"I miss everything there, my family, friends, my childhood [haunts] … the bells of the churches … the many old neighbourhoods I cannot forget."

Two years after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) captured Mosul , former residents say they remember Iraq's second largest city as boasting the best urban quality of life in the modern Middle East, in addition to its rich, illustrious past.
They recall a city of spires and minarets, of ruins hinting at ancient glories, of teenagers relaxing by the Tigris River. They remember Mosul's bookstores and learning centres, its restaurants and cafes offering local delicacies, and its lively music and gossip, shared among 2.5 million people ranging from Sunni and Shia Muslims, to Christians, to Kurds and Yazidis.

Now, as they prepare for the city's liberation, they fear the worst.
"I have mixed feelings about going back to my city," said Samer Elias, 42, an Iraqi writer who fled Mosul for Dohuk in Iraq's Kurdish region in 2014, soon after ISIL took the city. "I am afraid I won't find the same city I left more than two years ago because of ISIL [atrocities] against Mosul's churches and monasteries, our homes and monuments that form our collective memory.

"I am haunted with fear of what might happen to me, seeing our home destroyed, along with all the memories we have of it."

Residents who remained after ISIL took over say that the destruction began soon after Mosul's capture. They detail the decimation of its cultural life: the shuttering of cinemas, music halls, and festivals; the destruction of ancient monuments; and the revision of school curricula and the burning of books.
"Mosul's teens and college students used to play music, draw, and even make sculptures by the banks of Tigris River," said Hamza al-Fakhry, a 25-year-old filmmaker from Mosul who sought refuge in Turkey in 2014. "All of those parties and carnivals happened just several years ago in what's now one of the most difficult cities in the world to live in."
Residents recalled a place where people of diverse ethnicities, languages and faiths lived harmoniously.

"In its old districts, you would find alley after alley where people from many religious sects lived together in peace," said Mosul novelist Ghada Siddiq Rasool, the author of Nineveh Diaspora, who fled to Baghdad in 2015.

"It's a place where a Christian chief builder would volunteer to restore the minaret of the old Great Mosque. It has been sad to see the city of date and honey cakes, of bookstores, and of mystical Sufi musicians in the hands of fundamentalist and puritanical ISIL," she told Al Jazeera.

Today, residents and exiles say Mosul is characterised by impassable roads planted with explosives, shattered walls and windows, and abandoned places of worship. Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims are absent, having been forced to flee their homes.
What is happening in Mosul today follows the pattern of what happened in Fallujah, Tikrit and Ramadi, where ISIL left thousands dead and the cities in ruin. Many are worried about the implications for Mosul's treasured layers of history.
Around 700 BC, Assyrian King Sennacherib moved his empire's capital to Nineveh, and expanded it to make it the largest city in the world, at the time. It was also one of the most lavish, with seven-mile-long fortification walls, 15 impressive city gates, a complex irrigation system and a royal park with trees from other parts of the world conquered by the Assyrian empire.

Since 2014, ISIL has posted videos showing fighters hacking and blowing up statues on the ancient city gates and looting antiquities from the Mosul Museum.
"The monument I long for is the Assyrian Lamassu 'Winged Bull' at the ancient Gate of Nergal - it was removed by the extremists," Hassawy said.
"I cried when I heard they burned the books and manuscripts at the central library. Those were among the most precious treasures in the heritage of the people of Mosul. Mosul is inseparable from its history; those monuments had given the city its identity. It is a big loss."

Researchers note that ISIL has used the territory it holds in a ruthless manner.
"They've also looted the site of Nineveh," said Daniele Morandi Bonacossi, a professor of archaeology at the University of Udine in Italy. "We'll possibly see artefacts popping up in Europe or the US, in the next few years."
As the Iraqi army's offensive inches closer to dislodging ISIL from Mosul and its surrounding towns, locals say they hope to find the city they once knew, with all of its splendid details.

Hassawy longs for the ancient Clock Church that he used to pass on a regular basis, or the old bridge that used to revive him when he was tired because "the sounds of the river used to give me hope and life". The mixture of smells in the area pulled him in different directions: To the right, at the entrance to the market, smoke wafted from a kebab grill as people savoured succulent grilled meats. Nearby was a fried fish stall and pastry shop, all tempting him with their flavours.

"Everything in my city is beautiful - even the black columns of smoke as they pass over Nineveh," he said. "Mosul is a living memory for all those who have passed through or lived in it, despite the tragedies, fatigue, and forced exile to other governorates and countries. Nineveh is still the mother that embraces me wherever I go."


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