IS expel residents to defend river bank in Mosul

IS expel residents to defend river bank in Mosul
The Islamic State group expelled civilians from their homes along Mosul's west bank, apparently bracing for a cross-river attack on their bastion by Iraqi forces, residents said on Monday.
3 min read
24 January, 2017
Residents were forced to leave their homes pending a battle with security forces [AFP]

Civilians living along the Tigris river on Mosul's west bank were expelled from their homes by Islamic State militants, in an apparent brace for a cross-river attack on the groups' bastion by Iraqi forces, residents confirmed on Monday.

"The group forced us to leave our homes... without allowing us to take our belongings," a resident of al-Maidan, a neighbourhood on the city's militant-held west bank, told AFP.

"It deployed gun positions and posted snipers on roofs and at windows," the resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal by the IS gunmen ruling his neighbourhood.

"We were forced to leave the area because it will become a battlefield and so we moved in with relatives in other parts of the city," he said.

Iraqi forces have all but completed their re-conquest of Mosul's east bank and commanders are turning their sights to the western side of the city, which is expected to see bitter street battles in the coming weeks.

The Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight against IS said on Monday that federal forces moved into Rashidiyah - an area on the northern edge and east bank of Mosul still held by IS. 

Sufian al-Mashhadani, a civil society activist from Mosul, confirmed that the militant organisation had deployed fighters in several buildings along the west bank's river front. 

"Daesh prevented the inhabitants and owners of those homes and shops from taking their belongings and their food, claiming those were now the property of the mujahideen (holy warriors)," he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

All the bridges above the Tigris in central Mosul have been either bombed by IS or damaged in airstrikes by the global US-led coalition battling the group.

Mosul residents who live on the eastern side but own property or businesses on the west bank have seen their homes and shops seized by IS in recent days, said Abdulkarim al-Obeidi, another civil activist.

He said others have been expelled on the grounds that they did not allegedly have valid permits and licences.

"Daesh has been distributing those confiscated shops and homes to its fighters on the west bank, especially since their financial resources started decreasing sharply," Obeidi said.

Iraqi forces launched the offensive to retake Mosul, the militants' last major urban hub in Iraq, on October 17.

IS fighters on the city's west bank are almost completely surrounded and will be largely unable to resupply, but the narrow streets of the old city will make for a lethal terrain when federal forces move in.

Baghdad's top fighting units have taken considerable casualties in Mosul, in what is the Iraq's largest military operation in years.

But according to the coalition, IS has lost around two thirds of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and the recapture of Mosul by federal forces would effectively end its days as a land-holding force in the country.