WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT
Bodies are piling up in the streets as the battle for the ISIS stronghold of Mosul enters its endgame. Shocking images have emerged from the northern Iraqi city that show the corpses of militants from the Islamic fundamentalist group, complete with suicide belts, that have been left to rot for up to a fortnight.
It is thought that the Iraqi army, which is leading the assault, has left the dead bodies out as a symbolic warning to both the local population and to the undercover ISIS elements that are thought to have remained hidden as the Iraqi forces advanced.
Iraq's special forces troops surround the bodies of Islamic State militants; Credit: PA Images
As the Iraqi Security Forces have moved through the city they have been repeatedly attacked by ISIS sleeper cells. Captured Iraqi soldiers have regularly been subject to summary executions by ISIS forces and they appear to be showing no mercy to their own captives as they now retake the western part of the city.
"The message is clear to Iraqis, to keep them from joining or supporting Daesh (ISIS). This will be your fate. The Iraqi army will finish you off," said Ibrahim Mohamed, an Iraqi soldier. There have also been accusations of excesses against the civilian population by the incoming Iraqi troops, the vast majority of whom are Shiites in a city that is almost completely Sunni.
Mosul fell to ISIS back in June 2014 and is by far their biggest stronghold in Iraq. Once a city of some 2.5 million inhabitants, almost a million civilians have fled or been killed since the Islamists took over. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, announced the formation of the self-proclaimed Caliphate from Mosul and the city has represented the strength of their organisation ever since.
Drone footage captures the scenes around Mosul; Credit Ruptly
The fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law that was in operation under the ISIS regime was particularly barbaric, with public executions, summary justice and corporal punishment the norm. Even as recently as this week, two suspected cigarette smugglers were crucified in public. Minorities such as Yazidis, Assyrians and Shia have been singled out for particular punishment, with many international aid and refugee organisations - including the US House of Representatives - referring to their treatment as a genocide. As the Iraqi forces have closed in on Mosul, ISIS rule has become even harsher, with reports of civilians being executed for attempting to flee the city.
People inspect the destroyed Mosque in Mosul; Credit: PA Images
The battle for Mosul began in October 2016 with a huge offensive of Iraqi forces from the south of the city and Kurdish Peshmerga forces from the east. US and Coalition air strikes were used to soften up targets before the ground forces could move in. Just over 100 days later, almost the entire eastern half of the city has been taken with only the western bank of the Tigris river still occupied by Islamist forces.
A siege is now expected to force the Islamic State from the West, although it is widely accepted that ancient, narrow streets and dense population will make it extremely difficult for the city to be taken. Some 750,000 people still live in the western districts of Mosul and ISIS has proved itself in the past to be more than willing to use civilians as human shields and to coerce civilians into fighting for them. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees expects a quarter of a million people to be dispersed by any ground operation into western Mosul.
Should Mosul fall, ISIS would be left with almost no territory in Iraq. US airstrikes continue to batter the western part of the city as well as the ISIS capital of Raqqa across the border in Syria. Operation Inherent Resolve, as the Coalition force is known, claimed to have destroyed a raft of strategic targets on Sunday. As the Islamic State loses influence in Iraq, they have been operating a scorched earth policy towards the valuable oil fields of the nation, burning them as they leave and forcing huge cleanup operations for the incoming Iraqi forces.
Words: Mike Meehall Wood