Iraqi armored car passing a truck destroying by Islamic State west Mosul (Reuters)
Iraqi T-72 tank moves across rubble in west Mosul (Reuters)
There was fighting in three areas of west Mosul. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were still trying to capture the Zinjali neighborhood. The ISF has largely been frustrated in Shifa and the Old City and tried to push into the two areas from different directions. The Iraqi command claimed that the final assault on Mosul would be over quickly, while lower ranking officers and the Americans warned the opposite that it would be the toughest part of the fight. The latter are proving to be more accurate.
There have been mounting casualty reports coming out of the city. Two reports had 150 civilians being killed by Islamic State fire in Zinjali and Shifa, while another had 70 deaths in Zinjali and Saha. There’s likely overlap there as both mentioned Zinjali, but those were still huge figures. The insurgents have been using snipers and mortar fire on people attempting to flee the last sections of Mosul under its control. On the other hand, the Iraqi forces and U.S. led coalition are using more mortars, artillery, and air strikes since the start of the west Mosul operation. Together they have taken a huge toll on the residents.
The Joint Operations Command launched an attack upon reporter Ali Arkady and his stories in Der Spiegel, ABC News, and the Toronto Star. Arkady followed a unit from the Rapid Reaction Division during the Mosul operation and documented beatings, torture and alleged killings of IS suspects. The Joint Operations Command claimed the stories were made up so that Arkady could get asylum in a foreign country. It went on to say that if there was any abuse then Arkady was complicit as he was there. At the same time, there is an inquiry underway into the stories. This is classic double speak of denying a story and then saying if it happened then the one who reported it was partly responsible. Abuse is institutionalized within the Iraqi forces, there have been plenty of postings on social media and reports by human rights groups of the ISF killing prisoners, so Arkady’s work should have come as no surprise. The Iraqi forces are on the cusp of victory in Mosul, and yet have come to complain about any bad press more and more. The Iraqi forces have continuously repudiated any wrong doing in such events, threatened legal action, implied that the Islamic State is responsible, and tried to limit press access more and more within the city. In fact, the closer they get to winning the more they are worried about anything that might besmirch their reputation.
Another example was a Kurdish television station catching what looked like white phosphorus being used in west Mosul. The Iraqi command said it was smoke used by the U.S. led Coalition to block IS snipers from firing on civilians in the Shifa neighborhood. It went on to threaten legal action against anyone showing the footage, and blocked all live television coverage of the battle afterward. After all that denial, the government is now opening another investigation into the matter. Like the Der Spiegel story, the Iraqis claimed nothing happened, threatened the press, and now will look into the incident. In neither case is anything likely to come from the examination as no previous ones over the years have ever done so. Baghdad is unwilling to accept any wrong doing, and is more interesting in promoting its victory narrative.
The New York Times had a good photo essay following the ISF into the Rifai and Saha neighborhoods in west Mosul. The reporter found a huge amount of destruction. In Rifai he didn’t see a single house that had escaped the fighting. He also recorded the intense combat taking place. East Mosul had some battle damage, but most of the neighborhoods escaped relatively intact. West Mosul on the other hand looks to have been mostly leveled with the increased use of artillery and air strikes by the Iraqis and Coalition on top of the regular fighting.
In the Rifai neighborhood Agence France Presse reported on looting by residents. People were seen walking down the streets with all kinds of home items that they stole from the area. Policemen were trying to tell people to stop and return the items. The common response was that everything belonged to the Islamic State, so people were free to take them. The ISF were skeptical, but their verbal remonstrations were not enough to end the practice. Many people feel desperate in the western section of the city due to huge shortages and are likely looking for what they can find to supplement their living.
Ninewa Operations Command head General Najm Jabouri talked about how the population of Mosul were assisting the ISF in securing east Mosul. He reported that 1,500 IS members had been arrested so far with the help of the citizenry. There have been constant fears of insurgents hiding amongst the population in the east, and there are always raids looking for them as a result.
The Hashd were still at work in west Ninewa. 9 villages were seized to the northwest of Baaj, and they were heading towards a border crossing. Hashd leader Yusuf al-Kalabi told the press that the units would be clearing the Baaj district and the move into new regions. Deputy Hashd commander Abu Muhandis claimed IS was firing upon the Hashd from Syria. This might be a provocation to cross the border as many other Hashd members have talked about in recent days. Prime Minister Haider Abadi however stated that the government does not want any of the Iraqi forces fighting outside the country. The Hashd have said they would not move into Syria without Baghdad’s approval, but they are increasingly pushing the matter. Until then if they want to secure the Iraq-Syrian border they only have a very small fraction under their control, so there is plenty for them to do inside Iraq.
Finally, there were more stories of extrajudicial killings by the security forces. Human Rights Watch had several reports of the ISF executing IS suspects and leaving them in ditches or dumping them in the Tigris River. On May 21, a local security member told Human Rights Watch that they saw a body floating down the Tigris River in Qayara south of Mosul. On May 13 and May 15 2 groups of aid workers and a foreign journalist found 15 bodies on the side of the road outside of Hamam al-Alil. Men at a checkpoint told the foreign reporter that they saw members of the ISF bring the men to the site and shoot them. At the end of April, an aid worker went to the Qayara morgue and found a man shot, blindfolded and bound. On April 20 Reuters reported that six bodies were witnessed in the Tigris blindfolded and bound. The Hashd’s 90th Brigade is holding prisoners in Safina 20 kilometers to the north of Qayara. An Iraqi official told a reporter that the brigade had killed 25 prisoners and dropped them into the river. When Human Rights Watch inquired at the Qayara hospital they were told the Health and Defense Ministries had banned any discussions of its morgue. In fact, on June 5, 5 bodies were found in Bartella apparently blindfolded and shot by the Hashd. Human Rights Watch has documented many other cases in the Mosul campaign of prisoners being killed by the Iraqi forces. Like the abuse of prisoners this has been a long-standing practice, and therefore should not be surprising when cases are discovered. Again, Baghdad is likely to make some statement in response, but it will do nothing about it as it has never done so before, and is more interested in promoting itself than accepting and fixing its flaws.
Agence France Presse, “Looters target empty homes in Iraq’s Mosul,” 6/5/17
Al Alam, “Abadi: We do not want our troops to fight outside the border,” 6/5/17
Baghdad Post, “Video: Iraqi army fighting ISIS terrorists in Mosul right bank,” 6/5/17
Der Spiegel, “Not heroes but monsters,” 5/23/17
Dunphy, Liz, “Did Iraq use deadly phosphorus? Probe after sinister white-blue clouds are filmed over ISIS-held western Mosul,” Daily Mail, 6/5/17
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Dozens Found Handcuffed, Executed in, around Mosul,” 6/4/17
Iraq News App, "Iraq: Sources in the field: the high toll of civilians killed by Daash in the Shifa and Zinjali neighborhoods in Mosul up to around 150 martyrs," 6/5/17
Iraq News Center, "Killing and injuring more than 18 members of the security forces and an officer, and 4 military vehicles destroyed in Bab al-Tob west Mosul," 6/5/17
Iraq News Portal, “Abu Muhandis: We responded to incoming fire coming from Syria .. We reject America’s warnings of crossing the border,” 6/5/17
Kuran, Mustafa, “Nineveh Operations Commander: Coordination of citizens with security forces is the reason for maintaining the security of Mosul,” Rudaw, 6/5/17
Al Maalomah, “After the liberation of Baaj The Popular crowd reveals its new mission,” 6/5/17
Mostafa, Mohamed, “Iraqi command: reporter who accused troops of Mosul tortures merely eyed asylum,” Iraqi News, 6/5/17
- “Iraqi forces kill 21 IS members, including snipers, in snap attack in Mosul,” Iraqi News, 6/5/17
- “Mobilization forces recapture 9 villages clearing borders with Syria,” Iraqi News, 6/5/17
- “Officer, 4 civilians killed during Mosul battles Monday,” Iraqi News, 6/5/17
New Sabah, "Counterterrorism reveals Daesh only controls area of 4 square kilometers in West Mosul," 6/5/17
Potter, Mitch, Shephard, Michelle and Campion-Smith, Bruce, “Bound. Tortured. Killed.” Toronto Star, 5/27/17
Prickett, Ivor, “On Mosul’s Front Line: A Grueling Battle on Civilian Streets,” New York Times, 6/5/17
Ross, Brian, Schwartz, Rhonda, Meek, James Gordon and Kreider, Randy, “Iraqi troops torture and execute civilians in secret videos,” ABC News, 5/25/17
Rudaw, "Civilians thirst, hunger to be liberated from ISIS in western Mosul," 6/5/17
Shafaaq News, "Found the bodies of men killed by the popular crowd in Bartella," 6/5/17
- “Iraqi forces attack Old City from the south and found a prison with the remains of Daash north Mosul,” 6/5/17
- “Iraqi forces open a new front towards Shifa and progress in Zinjali,” 6/5/17
- "A lieutenant colonel and four civilians were killed west Mosul," 6/5/17
Sobir, Shoguna, “Iraqi Forces Resume Push into Mosul’s Old City from Southern Front,” Bas News, 6/5/17
World Food Programme, “Iraq: Situation Update – Mosul Operation – 04 June 2017,” 6/4/17
Xinhua, “Iraqi paramilitary forces free town, 12 villages in west of Mosul,” 6/5/17