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20 people Killed, Vice Patrols Show Islamic State Terrorist Group Maintains Mosul Grip in Iraq

The gruesome public display of the bodies appeared to be a warning against other potential informers

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Peshmerga forces ride on military vehicles in the town of Bashiqa, after it was recaptured from the Islamic State, east of Mosul, Iraq, Nov. 9, 2016. VOA
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Baghdad (Iraq), November 10, 2016: Islamic State militants fighting to hold on to their Mosul stronghold have killed at least 20 people in the last two days for passing information to “the enemy” and are back on the city streets policing the length of men’s beards, residents say.

Five crucified bodies were put on display at a road junction on Tuesday, a clear message to the city’s remaining 1.5 million residents that the ultra-hardline Islamists are still in charge, despite losing territory to the east of the city.

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Others were seen hanging from electricity poles and traffic signals around the city, residents said on Wednesday.

Thousands of Islamic State fighters have run Mosul, the largest city under their control in Iraq and neighboring Syria, since they conquered large parts of northern Iraq in 2014.

They are now battling a 100,000-strong coalition including Iraqi troops, security forces, Kurdish peshmerga and mainly Shi’ite paramilitary groups, which has almost surrounded the city and has broken into eastern neighborhoods.

Residents contacted by telephone said many parts of the city were calmer than they had been for days, allowing people to venture out to seek food, even in areas which have seen heavy fighting over the last week.

“I went out in my car for the first time since the start of the clashes in the eastern districts,” said one Mosul resident.

“I saw some of the Hisba elements of Daesh (Islamic State) checking people’s beards and clothes and looking for smokers”.

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Islamic State’s Hisba force is a morality police unit which imposes the Sunni jihadists’ interpretation of Islamic behavior. It forbids smoking, says women should be veiled and wear gloves, and bans men from Western-style dress including jeans and logos.

Hisba units patrol the city in specially marked vehicles.

“It looks like they want to prove their presence after they disappeared for the last 10 days, especially on the eastern bank,” the resident said.

Mosul is divided into two halves by the Tigris river running through its center. The eastern half, where elite Iraqi troops have broken through Islamic State defenses, has a more mixed population than the western, overwhelmingly Sunni Arab side, where Islamic State fighters are believed to be strongest.

Crucified corpses

The militants are putting up a fierce defense after their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, told them in a speech last week to remain loyal to their commanders and not to retreat in the “total war” with their enemies.

Iraqi military officials say they have sources inside the city, helping them identify Islamic State positions for targeting by the U.S.-led air coalition supporting the campaign, which is also backed by U.S. troops on the ground.

The gruesome public display of the bodies appeared to be a warning against other potential informers.

“I saw five corpses of young men which had been crucified at a road junction in east Mosul,” not far from districts which had seen heavy fighting, said another resident.

“The Daesh people hung the bodies out and said that these were agents passing news to the infidel forces and apostates,” he said, referring to the Western allies backing the campaign and the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad.

In another sign of a clampdown on contact with the outside world, one retired policeman said Islamic State officials were trying to inspect SIM cards to check on all communications.

“I went to get my pension as usual, but the man at the office refused to give it to me unless I handed over my SIM card,” said the 65-year-old man, who gave his name as Abu Ali.

“These are the instructions from Daesh,” Abu Ali quoted the man at the office as telling him.

Many residents close to the fighting have said the scale of the clashes has been terrifying, with the sound of gunfire, mortar bombardments and air strikes echoing through the streets.

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In the Zuhour district, still controlled by Islamic State on Mosul’s eastern bank, witnesses said that cars carrying mortars roamed the streets on Tuesday, but were not seen being fired – unlike in the previous two days.

The relative quiet may reflect a reduction in fighting since Iraq’s special forces first broke into eastern Mosul a week ago.

They faced fierce resistance and have not sought to make any major advance since then.

One witness said traffic had almost returned to normal in most parts of eastern Mosul and markets were operating, albeit not as busily as before the start of military operations. (VOA)

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Civilians Who Fled Afrin Suffer from Dire Humanitarian Conditions

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People sit in a truck with their belongings in the north east of Afrin, Syria, March 15, 2018. VOA

Thousands of civilians who fled the city of Afrin are enduring dire conditions after they reached Syrian-controlled areas south of the Afrin district.

“More than 2,000 people reached the towns of Nubl and Zahraa from Afrin in the past 24 hours, raising the number of total civilians in the two towns to 16,000. Many are suffering from tragic conditions,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights website.

Turkish media announced the control of Afrin on Sunday, after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) withdrew from the city and thousands of civilians were evacuated — 59 days after the launch of Operation Olive Branch, the Turkish military operation in Afrin.

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The Observatory said Nubl and Zahraa were struggling to provide shelter and food for the large numbers of displaced people pouring into the towns.

Sumama Al-Ashkar, a journalist in Nubl and Zahraa, told VOA that people were residing in houses, mosques, schools, public halls and warehouses.

“The civilians in Nubl and Zahraa are able to get some aid and services, but those who went to Tal Rifat in northern Aleppo are struggling to survive,” he said.

ALSO READ: Gulf, West grapple with Syrian refugee crisis

The U.S. State Department issued a statement on Monday expressing deep concern about reports coming from the predominantly Kurdish city in the past 48 hours.

“It appears the majority of the population of the city … evacuated under threat of attack from Turkish military forces and Turkish-backed opposition forces. This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs,” the statement said.

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Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers walk in city center of Afrin, northwestern Syria, March 18, 2018. VOA

Destruction and looting

A number of reports circulated in the media said Turkish-backed forces were destroying and looting public and private properties after they entered the city.

The Afrin media center said once the Turkish-backed fighters reached the town center, they destroyed a statue placed in the center of the city that represents Kurdish cultural figure Kawa the Ironsmith.

“Kawa the Ironsmith is a major historical symbol for the Kurdish people, as it is linked to the most important Middle Eastern holiday, the Nawruz,” Afrin Media Center said.

Footage coming from Afrin also showed Turkish-backed fighters pillaging homes, shops and military sites amidst chaos. They were seen carrying food, electronic devices, civilian cars, farmers’ tractors and livestock.

Members of the Syrian opposition condemned the looting and destruction of the city and called for holding the looters responsible for their acts.

The General Military Staff of the Syrian Interim Government, an alternative government of the Syrian opposition, issued a statement Monday calling for the Turkey-backed Syrian rebels to protect civilians and their properties, and to respect religious and ethnic installations in Afrin.

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Turkish soldiers, positioned in the city center of Afrin, northwestern Syria, March 19, 2018, a day after they took the control of the area. VOA

In a comment to CNN, Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, did not deny the reports of looting but said the actions were committed by some groups who disobeyed their commanders. He said reports were being investigated.

Guerilla war

On Sunday, Kurdish leader Saleh Muslim told ANF, the Kurdish News Agency, that the fight in Afrin entered a new phase, where the YPG and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) will continue to resist in the district.

Muslim added that the civilians had to leave the city for their own protection and vowed to step up the fight.

“The existence of civilians in the city will impose a challenge for our fighters. Our enemy kills civilians and strikes hospitals, and since the Turkish offensive started, civilians were targeted. Now, the war will continue in a different way after civilians left the city,” Muslim said.

A number of humanitarian organizations and civil society groups working north and east of Syria, including the Kurdish Red Crescent, issued a joint statement calling on the international community to act.

“We plea to the international community to intervene immediately to stop these attacks and let the refugees return to their homes, protect their possessions and civil rights, and deliver aid to thousands of people [who] fled this war,” the statement said Monday. VOA