- Aa2-2004 Creative Commons 3.0
- Mosul's Grand Mosque
The Islamic State group has killed scores of people as it herds tens of thousands into Mosul for use as human shields against advancing Iraqi forces, the United Nations said Friday.
Thousands have fled in the other direction, prompting a warning of "massive displacement" when fighting inside the jihadists' last urban stronghold begins.
The UN human rights office said ISIS had reportedly shot dead 232 people in a single day on Wednesday and killed another 24 the previous day.
Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the execution-style killings came as ISIS pushed forward with a strategy of forcing people living outside Mosul into the city.
ISIS "has been forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes in some districts around Mosul," Shamdasani said.
Those executed included civilians who have refused to comply with the relocation orders and those who previously worked for the government security services, she said.
The killings, which the UN rights office said have been "corroborated to the extent possible," are just the latest in a long line of atrocities committed by the jihadists since they overran swathes of Iraq in 2014.
IS has carried out mass executions, bombed civilian targets including markets and mosques, and perpetrated a campaign of massacres, enslavement and rape targeting members of the Yazidi religious minority.
Potential for 'massive displacement'
As Iraqi forces have closed in on Mosul from the north, east and south, growing numbers of civilians have fled IS-held areas and the impending fighting in territory the jihadists control.
The International Organization for Migration said that as of Thursday, 15,804 people had been displaced since the operation began on Oct. 17, the vast majority in the Mosul region.
"We've seen ... quite a dramatic increase in the numbers in the last few days, and they are now going into the newly set up camps," Karl Schembri, regional media adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council, told AFP.
"This is already worrying because they haven't yet entered the city... when that happens, it's going to be quite massive displacement," he said.
The potential for a humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of civilians are forced into camps with winter looming is just one of a raft of issues that have complicated military planning for the recapture of Mosul.
Thousands of Kurdish peshmerga fighters are taking part in the operation alongside Iraqi government troops and Kurdish leaders have made clear that they will expect payback once it has been successfully completed.
The Kurds, who have expanded the territory under their control far beyond the boundaries of their longstanding autonomous region in the north, say their hopes of a new Iraq have been dashed and they will now explore a separate future.
Kurdish independence talks
"As soon as Mosul is liberated, we will meet with our partners in Baghdad and talk about our independence," said the region's Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.
"We are not Arabs, we are our own Kurdish nation... At some point there will be a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan, and then we will let the people decide," he told Germany's Bild newspaper.
But for now, the battle for Mosul is far from over, and most of the advancing forces are still some way from the city limits.
The head of US military operations in the Middle East, General Joseph Votel, said the jihadists were suffering heavy losses.
"Just in the operations over the last week and a half associated with Mosul, we estimate they've probably killed about 800 to 900 Islamic State fighters," Votel told AFP in an interview.
Washington estimates there are between 3,500 and 5,000 ISIS fighters in Mosul and as many as 2,000 more in the wider area.
The US-led coalition has said that the jihadists can still travel in smaller groups, but cannot move in large convoys — hampering their ability to replace losses.
ISIS still controls a corridor of territory west of Mosul linking it with the Syrian part of the caliphate it declared in 2014.
But there too the jihadists have come under mounting pressure, with Western leaders raising the prospect of an offensive to capture their Syrian stronghold of Raqa within the next few weeks.
Iraq plane might have bombed civilians
An Iraqi aircraft is believed to have carried out a strike on a Shiite place of worship last week that killed 15 people and wounded dozens, a lawmaker said Friday.
The air raid in Daquq, a town in Kirkuk province of northern Iraq, sparked outrage among residents, who have demanded answers on who was behind the deadly Oct. 21 strike.
"It is believed that it was an Iraqi aircraft," said Hakim al-Zamili, a lawmaker and member of the committee investigating the strike, citing preliminary results.
Some say the bombing was due to a technical problem while others believe it was intentional, Zamili said at a news conference in Daquq, promising to find out the cause.
The strike hit a Shiite place of worship that is known as a husseiniyah in Daquq on the afternoon of Oct. 21.
On Thursday, Daquq residents had demanded answers on the strike, criticizing the lack of information released so far.
Yaljan Mahdi Sadiq, a leading figure in the Daquq community, said families of the victims had refused compensation from the Iraqi government.
"They don't want money, they want to know who committed this horrible crime against them," Sadiq said.
The US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq had previously said it had "definitively" determined it did not carry out the Daquq strike.
Russia had pointed an accusing finger at the coalition a day after the attack.