After Sinjar, ISIS feels pinch in Mosul
BAGHDAD - The Islamic State (ISIS) is feeling the pinch in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The militants are under pressure in the northern Iraqi city, having lost a major supply route running through Sinjar, some 130 km to the west, to their capital, the Syrian city of Raqqa.
With a US-led coalition intensifying its bombing campaign in the area, some ISIS militants are anxious that their rule in Mosul is drawing to an end, residents said. As a result, they said more militants are defecting, fleeing with Iraqi refugees into Syria.
Mohammed, a 37-year-old civil engineer and one of five Mosul residents interviewed by The Arab Weekly, said organisational disputes and the growing frustration of a population increasingly resentful of ISIS had dealt serious blows to the group.
Some of Mosul’s Sunni tribes backed ISIS when it captured the city on June 10, 2014. Since then, Iraq’s Shia-dominated government has repeatedly promised a military offensive to retake Mosul but progress has been slow, in part because of ISIS gains elsewhere in the country. In May, militants drove Iraq’s army out of Ramadi, capital of the western province of Anbar, some 120 km west of Baghdad.
Despite the promises, there are few signs of an imminent military operation to retake Mosul.
“They are so edgy now,” Mohammed insisted, referring to ISIS leaders in the city, which he said once hosted a number of foreign fighters, including some from Australia, the United Kingdom and France.
“They’re eliminating some of their most influential local commanders, as a reprimand to others and to scare off the people,” he said.
He pointed out that Nasser al- Amoonah al-Takriti, an ex-al-Qaeda in Iraq leader and later a commander of a special operations brigade in ISIS, was killed in a main Mosul square on November 28th because he sought to “retire”.
Mohammed said ISIS was growing increasingly impatient with Mosul residents outside the group who refused its orders. He and the other Mosul residents said they witnessed the November 12th killing of Abdullah Sultan al-Abidi, the chairman of the University of Mosul’s Physics Department.
ISIS militants shot Abidi several times in the head and body, killing him in another square in Mosul. The professor is said to have refused an ISIS request to develop a biological weapon to use against government forces.
Mosul resident Thanoon Yunis insisted that “things were much better six months ago”.
“At the time, they tried to show us a kind face, that they cared for the people. They were patient and helpful. They paved new roads, cleaned and lit up streets and forced a reduction in the prices of all commodities,” Yunis said.
“But their loss in Sinjar made them seethe with anger and later they turned jumpy because they’re anxious over what’s next,” he said.
“The tumultuous state of mind they’re in is clear. We can see it. As soon as you look in the face of one of them, he instantly takes out his anger at you and starts questioning you: ‘Why are you looking at me? You want to give away information about me? You don’t like me?’
“When he’s done with you, you’d be shaken to death and you can barely stand up,” Yunis added.
On November 13th, Kurdish peshmerga forces, backed by US air cover, recaptured most of Sinjar, cutting off a major supply line to ISIS.
Although some Mosul truck drivers, forced by ISIS to find alternative routes, stumbled on one linking their city with Raqqa in Syria, the road is unsafe, according to Mohammed.
He said a 60-km stretch out of an estimated 450-km distance between the ISIS strongholds is unpaved. Dirt turns to mud in winter, which could make it impossible for trailers to complete the journey.
According to Mosul residents, the new route heads south out of the city rather than west. Trucks drive to Tal Abtah on a paved highway, then take the dirt road until Qayrawan, which is also known as Balij, a sub-district south-west of Mosul. They take a paved road there, not far from Mount Sinjar, and then into Syria.
Another resident, Ibrahim Najjar, said although ISIS militants confine themselves to certain areas in the city, mainly to be among the population such as in the marketplace, the number of fighters is “big”.
“There are several hundred of them scattered across different areas in groups,” he said. He said his information came from a relative who had recently joined the militants.
“There are foreigners here, too, but not as visible as they used to (be),” he said. “They mostly do the planning and supervise the men in the field from the comfort of their offices in town.”