Islamic State jihadists in the Iraqi city of Mosul are preparing for an assault from government forces by cutting phone lines and banning residents from fleeing the city.
Residents and refugees from Iraq’s second-largest city have told the Daily Telegraph how conditions have deteriorated, as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant comes under increasing pressure from a government fightback.
“You have to bring a guarantor to say you will come back in ten days,” said Ghazwan, a Mosul resident recently arrived in Baghdad. He asked for his full name to be withheld. “If you don’t come back, they are punished.”
He said he discovered this new rule when a friend could not bring his mother to Baghdad for an operation and she died. “People are trying to leave Mosul,” he said. “They closed the hospitals because they have no electricity or water.”
The decision to impose restrictions on residents who wish to leave the city has not been explained but appears to be an attempt to stop mass flight.
When Isil arrived in Mosul in June, many Sunni residents welcomed the group, thinking it would be preferable to the Shia-led government of then prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, which they regarded as brutal and sectarian.
One immediate advantage was that the bombings carried out by the jihadists stopped, and the roads were open and safe for the first time for years, Ghazlan and other residents said. Minorities such as Christians mostly fled.
Those Christians that did not were given a two-day ultimatum in July to convert or leave.
However, since then, the group has courted unpopularity even with the Sunni population by imposing harsh rules of conduct and in particular by blowing up the city’s best-known mosque, which was also the tomb of the Prophet Jonah, saying worship at a shrine was idolatrous.
The subsequent hardships, such as the lack of electricity and the shutdown of the mobile phone network last month, have added to residents’ difficulties.
Another resident still in the city, who asked not to be named, said that the phones had been cut off as a security measure – Isil feared residents were phoning in their positions to the government.
Isil has begun training young men and even boys to join its forces, according to videos the group has released online, as schools are segregated and “Islamised”. Isil positions around the city have come under attack from the air strikes by the United States and other members of the coalition ranged against it.
The Pentagon said the coalition had struck 20 Isil targets in Iraq, including in Mosul, in three days last week. Iraqi media said another 18 Isil fighters were killed in air strikes near Mosul Dam on Sunday.
However, despite Isil’s apparent concerns, there is no sign of an immediate attack on the city.
Government forces, backed by Shia militia, have made some gains in the last two weeks, including relieving a siege on the oil refinery at Baiji, Iraq’s largest, between Baghdad and Mosul, but are not thought to have sufficient control of the road further north to launch an assault.
The United States has implied that it does not think the Iraqi army will be in a position to retake major Sunni Arab areas of Isil control, such as Mosul and the province of Anbar, for many months.
It says it wants to organise a major training scheme first. The British government, in announcing a further deployment of hundreds of troops to Baghdad and Erbil to train local forces over the weekend, also suggested that a delay was likely.
“The situation in Iraq is still chaotic,” said Hunain Qaddo, an MP for Mosul from the Shabak, a mostly Shia minority group, now in internal exile in Baghdad.
He said there were still disputes over strategy among government leaders, and between the government and the Americans. “Our leaders are not working together,” he said.
By Richard Spencer