(REUTERS) – Isis militants have executed scores more people around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul this week and are reported to be stockpiling dangerous chemicals in civilian areas, the UN human rights office said on Friday.
A mass grave with over 100 bodies found in the town of Hammam al-Alil was one of several so called Islamic State killing grounds, spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said. She cited testimony gleaned from sources including a man who had survived an execution of some 50 former Iraqi soldiers by playing dead.
“Clearly there are many other killing fields. We also have reports of other mass graves which we haven’t yet been able to verify,” Ms Shamdasani told reporters, mentioning sites at Mosul airport and the village of Tal al-Thahab.
Iraqi troops had found large stockpiles of sulphur and there were credible reports that Isis had used “phosphor projectiles” over Qayyara, close to Mosul, Ms Shamdasani said.
“Similar credible reports in Mosul state that they have placed sulphur pits in close proximity to civilians,” she said.
The UN’s sources of information include people living in Isis-held areas who risk their lives to speak out.
“We get so much information,” Ms Shamdasani said, without going into details. “We’ve been in Iraq a very long time.”
She said 40 civilians were reportedly shot on Tuesday for “treason and collaboration” with Iraqi government forces, and their bodies hung from electrical poles around Mosul.
The same day a 27-year-old man was shot for using a mobile phone, Ms Shamdasani said. Six others had been hanged on October 20th for hiding SIM cards, and 20 more were reportedly shot on Wednesday for leaking information to the Iraqi security forces.
Isis had deployed what it calls “sons of the caliphate” wearing explosive belts in the alleys of Old Mosul, and the UN had unconfirmed reports that they were teenagers and young boys, Ms Shamdasani said.
Isis also announced on November 6th that it had beheaded seven of its own fighters for deserting the battlefield at Kokjali, Ms Shamdasani said.
The UN had also verified an Isis propaganda video showing four children, purportedly including one Russian and one Uzbek, executing four people for spying.
The UN had information that abducted women, including from the Yazidi minority, were being “distributed” to fighters or told they would be used to accompany Islamic State convoys, Ms Shamdasani said.
“We’re talking about war crimes, crimes against humanity, even genocide,” she said.
Meanwhile, Iraqi special forces said they pushed deeper into Mosul on Friday despite heavy resistance from militants using civilians as cover, and were holding half a dozen city neighbourhoods seized in the last 10 days.
The elite Counter Terrorism Service troops broke through Isis defence lines to enter the city early last week and have since been embroiled in a brutal, close-quarter combat with waves of suicide bombers and snipers.
The special forces are the spearhead of a wider coalition of 100,000 fighters seeking to crush a few thousand jihadists who have ruled
Mosul, the biggest city of their cross-border “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, for the last two years.
The campaign, nearly four weeks old, is the most complex military operation in Iraq in the 13 years of turmoil since the US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Security forces and army infantry divisions, backed by a US-led air force, are preparing to move on southern and northern districts of Mosul in coming days, to step up pressure on the militants.
Kurdish peshmerga and Shia paramilitary forces are holding territory to the northeast and to the west.
On the eastern front, special forces pushed into the Qadisiya al-Thaniya district, on the northern edge of the small pocket of neighbourhoods they control so far, Sabah al-Numani, spokesman for the Counter Terrorism Service, told Reuters.
“We have encountered heavy resistance from the enemy,” he said, describing what he called “obstructive patrols” of militant forces trying to hold up the advance.
“We are facing the most difficult form of urban warfare, fighting with the presence of civilians, but our forces are trained for this sort of combat.”
Military officers have told Reuters that the fighting is some of the most lethal they have seen, with small groups of militants using a vast network of tunnels and narrow streets to launch an apparently endless sequence of attacks against troops.
A Reuters correspondent in Kokjali, on the eastern edge of the city, saw US Apache helicopters overhead. Explosions, either from air strikes or suicide car bombs which the jihadists have deployed in the hundreds since the campaign started on October 17th, could be heard against a backdrop of artillery fire.
As smoke rose above the city, hundreds of civilians were on the streets of Kokjali, some of them local residents but others fleeing the fighting in Mosul itself.
The International Organization for Migration says nearly 48,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, still a relatively low figure compared to a UN warning before the campaign of a possible exodus of 700,000 or 800,000.
Mr Numani said the army had told civilians to stay indoors for their safety, adding that the counter terrorism unit aimed to hand over neighbourhoods which it had secured to other forces. In other cities retaken from Isis, local police forces have moved in after the special forces have cleared territory.
On Thursday, Iraqi soldiers advancing on the eastern side of the Tigris targeted two villages close to the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, a military statement said.
Troops from the Ninth Armoured Division took control of one of them, the village of Abbas Rajab, 4km east of Nimrud, and raised the Iraqi flag, it said.
The Iraqi government says Nimrud was bulldozed last year as part of Islamic State’s campaign to destroy symbols which the Sunni Muslim zealots consider idolatrous. It would be the first such site to be recaptured from Isis. – (Reuters )