ISIS in Denial as Iraqi Forces Advance on Western Mosul

On the western side of the city of Mosul, the extremist organization known as ISIS is engaged in a fierce battle. Over the last several months, they’ve lost the eastern side of the city to Iraqi pro-government forces.

Although many ISIS fighters have been killed or have fled the city, the leaders who remain continue to try and convince the local populace of their invincibility. News has arrived that the eastern side of the city has been cleared of ISIS fighters, but to many still in the western side, it seems the extremist organization doesn’t want to accept reality.

For example, an ISIS member recently asked a worker at Mosul’s General Hospital why there were not as many doctors and nurses anymore. Incredulous at the question, the staff member told the fighter that many doctors and nurses lived on the other side of the city and could no longer cross the Tigris river to come to work.

Every week, ISIS sends written instructions to their clerics, telling them what the subject of the weekly sermon should be, as well as any messages the extremists want relayed. On a recent week, the instructions indicated that sermons should be particularly enthusiastic about the fighting to come.

So that Friday, at sermons in mosques on the western side of Mosul, clerics asked local families to send their sons to fight for ISIS. According to an attendee at one mosque, the preacher scolded locals for not doing so.

“A young man ascended to the pulpit and began to tell us off,” said the eyewitness, whose name and location cannot be revealed due to security concerns. “He began shouting, saying, ‘If you think the infidels [meaning the pro-government forces] are going to reach the [western] side of the city, you’re dreaming. I swear to you that God will help us win this battle, and that it will be a miracle.’”

But ISIS is clearly not relying on God alone, other locals say. Dozens of both Arab and foreign fighters are being stationed in the medical complex beside the Tigris river. Snipers occupy the higher floors of the hospital.

The same kind of thing has happened in other neighborhoods near the river and on the southern outskirts of the city, which is where the pro-government forces are pushing now. ISIS has taken control of taller buildings and made sure they can move easily between and through them. In one neighborhood, a resident says suicide bombers have been lining up behind IS leaders and chanting to display their courage.

“Either victory or martyrdom,” they shout.

Locals in the western part of the city can actually see the Iraqi national flag flying on the other side of the city, while the black flag of ISIS still hangs over their own heads. Desperate for news, they discuss every overheard snatch of conversation.

In terms of daily life, the besieged parts of Mosul haven’t had any deliveries of fresh food for weeks. What is available is being sold at extremely high price. It seems likely that any stores still open will have to close soon. There is no fuel coming in either, and some parts of the city are almost empty of vehicles.

There’s no gas for cooking or heating, and locals share stories of how everyone is surviving in these conditions.

Children look on as our team delivers food in eastern Mosul, near the Tigris River separating newly-liberated neighborhoods from ISIS territory

“We have started to use the furniture for cooking—we’ve already gone through the chairs, closets and beds,” one woman said in a phone interview with Niqash. Throughout the interview she was coughing because of all the smoke in her house. “Now we are onto the wooden doors. In the near future we are going to have to start burning our clothes, if the Iraqi army doesn’t come soon. It’s like we are living in a different era. Thanks to the Caliph [what the leader of ISIS likes to call himself], everything in here is black with smoke: the walls, our faces and everything else.”