General says Isis salaries cut from thousands of dollars a month to a few hundred
Ruaidhrí Giblin on the Bashiq frontline, Iraqi Kurdistan
It has been more than two years since Islamic State, also known as Isis, declared its so- called caliphate in Mosul’s Grand Mosque. Now, after months of preparation by a US- led coalition, Iraqi security forces, the Peshmerga and others are set to march on the city’s north, south and east sides.
Through sandbags on the eastern front of Bashiq, one can see the urban sprawl of Mosul – a metropolis once home to 2.5 million people – 15km away.
A two- to three-kilometre stretch of no-man’s land, which separates the Kurdish forces and Islamic State lines, is increasingly being crossed by civilians at night, many of them desperate, hungry and in fear of their lives.
As many as a million people are expected to make a similar journey from Mosul in the coming months. One night last month, up to 200 civilians made their escape to one outlying post alone.
Shortage of food
Peshmerga general Mohammad Rasool, who received the escapees at his post 2km from Islamic State lines, tells The Irish Times that, according to those escaping, Mosul was short of food and civilians were eating only one meal a day.
In Mosul, they say, a bag of flour costs 50,000 Iraqi dinars ($43/€38). A cylinder of gas costs $50 while in Irbil, the Kurdish capital, it costs $4.
Gen Rasool, in common with his commanding officers on the Bashiq frontline, is awaiting orders to attack Mosul. “The Mosul attack . . . won’t be as difficult as thought [because] Isis is not as strong as before,” he says.
Salaries paid to Islamic State fighters have been reduced from thousands of dollars a month to a few hundred, he adds, and many fighters have quit “because they were with Isis for money”.
Foreign fighters, among Islamic State’s best, have already left Mosul, and he expects the people of the city to rise up once the fighting begins.
Gen Rasool claims the Mosul operation could be “over in one month” if the United States and coalition forces provide more modern weaponry to the Kurds. His men are equipped with Soviet-era Kalashnikovs.
Brig Gen Bahram Yassin, overall commander of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces on the Bashiq frontline, believes there are 20,000 Islamic State fighters in Mosul but he expects the city to be cleared of Isis before the end of the year.
He says the civilians who have made it to the Bashiq front line are traumatised from life under Isis. “The people we received – children, women and the elderly – are in poor psychological condition” because they witnessed daily arrests and executions. There is no food in Mosul, no work and no services.
“Isis wants to put the people back into the dark ages,” says Brig Gen Yassin. “They are against freedom, democracy and development and they are against co-existence. Either you will be with Isis and their ideology or you will be killed, [so] you must run away. That’s why it is a very dangerous ideology.
“The Peshmerga are fighting on behalf of all of the world. That’s why we are waiting for the world’s help to defeat Isis,” he adds, in reference to humanitarian as well as military aid. Unless Islamic State is “defeated here, not only will Kurdistan be under threat but the whole world [will be] under threat”.