Islamic State militants drowned nearly 60 people for suspected cooperation with Iraqi forces, in their bid to retake the city of Mosul, according to reports.
“This is a clear sign that the terrorist organization has started to lose support not only from the population, but even from its own members,” an Iraqi Counter-Terrorism official told reporters. Bodies of the drowned were later discovered in a mass grave on the outskirts of the city, residents confirmed to Reuters.
ISIS’s barbaric option highlights the depravity the group will likely employ as it defends the city, from the U.S.-backed coalition efforts to retake it. “This is a dangerous enemy. They use booby traps, suicide bombs. Our information is that they have been digging tunnels,” an Iraqi military commander told The Washington Post in the dawn hours of the offensive.
Iraqi officials fear ISIS will use the massive civilian population as human shields, lessening the effectiveness of U.S. airpower.
The United Nations (U.N.) estimates nearly 1.5 million people remain inside the city of Mosul, with many on the outskirts already fleeing the violence. The Iraqi military is dropping leaflets on the city asking residents to remain in their homes, a departure from their normal request for civilians to evacuate a city before trying to retake it. “Families are at extreme risk of being caught in crossfire or targeted by snipers,” a U.N. official told The Wall Street Journal.
U.S. military commanders caution reporters that the offensive will likely take weeks, as forces enclose on Mosul from all sides. Even if the offensive is successful, the operation could spark a major humanitarian disaster.
The U.N. faces a $165 million shortfall to provide even the most basic humanitarian assistance, and is reportedly only going to be able to build four standard refugee camps. The four camps will have a maximum capacity of 280,000, hardly a fourth of the expected refugees spawned by the Mosul operation.
ISIS seized the city of Mosul in 2014, shocking the world, and invigorating its supporters. ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Bagdadi appeared in the grand mosque of Mosul, and official declared a caliphate with himself as the leader.
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