Islamic State militants have forced 1,500 Iraqi families to march to Mosul from the village of Hammam al-Alil, where advancing soldiers have found a mass grave feared to contain dozens of bodies.
As Isis loses control of areas, summary executions and forced marches of civilians have become a grim feature of the military campaign to oust the militants from their last major stronghold in Iraq, now stretching into its fourth week.
Nearly 300 former members of the security forces and 30 sheikhs, or local leaders, had reportedly disappeared from other villages around Mosul, a senior United Nations official said.
Col Khalid Jaburi, a representative of the Iraqi council of ministers for rescuing Iraqis fleeing the fighting, said Isis had taken former police officers, former soldiers and civilians as they withdrew from Hammam al-Alil.
Using the Arabic acronym for the militant group, he added: “I cannot be exact about the number because we are still investigating … Daesh also beheaded 100 former police officers and soldiers and dumped them in a mass grave.”
The families were expected to be used as human shields by the group, which has repeatedly used civilians to try to protect its fighters, while some had been shot for trying to escape. Most of those killed were former members of the security forces, apparently targeted by Isis over fears they could form the core of an uprising against its rule as other enemies close in.
“People forcibly moved or abducted, it appears, are either intended to be used as human shields or, depending on their perceived affiliations, killed,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a news conference in Geneva.
The mass grave was discovered when a bulldozer was called in by Iraqi troops who had noticed a strong smell. It uncovered bones, decomposed bodies and scraps of clothing and plastic, the Associated Press reported.
The grave was on the site of an agricultural college where 50 former police officers were reported to have been killed in late October, the UN said, but the human rights envoy has not been able to confirm if the grave is linked to those men.
Isis provided videos and photos of terrified families rushing down a street as gunfire and explosions were heard around them, but said they were leaving to escape the fighting, not because they were forced.
The fighting is likely to become more intense as troops move into Mosul city itself. Networks of tunnels and suicide bombers have hindered the progress of troops through the surrounding villages.
There will also be fewer forces on the frontline in the weeks ahead. Kurdish peshmerga, who have led much of the advance against Isis in the north, said they would soon stop their progress.
They are clearing the town of Bashiqa, dominated by the Yazidi minority, but in deference to sensitivities about control of Sunni-Arab-dominated Mosul, will leave efforts to take the city to the Iraqi military and a coalition of foreign forces and militias supporting it.
“We have achieved the objectives that we agreed upon with the Iraqi government and the coalition partners successfully,” said Brig Gen Hazhar Ismail, the director of coordination and relation at the ministry of peshmerga, who handles relations with coalition forces and Iraqis.
“The peshmerga forces liberated nearly 800 sq km and played a critical role in opening a safe corridor for the Iraqi forces to advance on Mosul … Before the Iraqi forces entered the battle, the peshmerga had already liberated over 50% of Nineveh province.”
The peshmerga have been fighting for Bashiqa since October and, in a taste of the likely battle for Mosul, are still battling snipers. They are holed up in fortified homes which are protected by booby-traps and connected by a complex tunnel network that allows Isis militants to evade attacks and ambush enemy soldiers from areas they thought were cleared.
“They were shooting from a hole and then they would disappear and reappear again from another hole,” said Capt Dlovan Mohammad. As they pushed into the town, he said, two of his men were killed by an enemy who repeatedly eluded capture.
“When we seized the hill, Daesh had fled into the town through the tunnels, which were sophisticated. Once we take the town completely, there will be no more advances by peshmerga, the fighting will end for us on this front.”
Posted by Women Against Shariah on Wednesday, November 9, 2016