Federal Police officer firing an RPG in west Mosul (Reuters)
The second day of the new push on west Mosul brought mixed successes. The Golden Division was said to be in control of 70% of Saha, the Rapid Reaction Division and Federal Police 60% of Zinjali. Other reports however had the police only 300 meters into Zinjali. The Islamic State also set another ambush for the Iraqi forces in the medical center in Saha. On May 27 the center was taken, but during the night IS counter attacked and drove the Iraqi forces (ISF) out. The Ibn Sina Hospital in the center was set on fire, and 12 civilians executed inside by the militants. 13 ISF were killed during the fighting. The ISF command wants to capture these neighborhoods along with Shifa in the next 72 hours and then move onto the Old City, the largest district still under insurgent control. Not to be out done, the Golden Division spokesman predicted that all of Mosul would be liberated in just a few days. Iraqi propaganda is known for its exaggeration. IS defenses in the Old City successfully held off the police for several months and even a multi-pronged attack from several directions is likely to be difficult.
Sarah Leah Whitson from Human Rights Watch wrote an opinion piece for The Star calling on the Iraqi government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for abuses written about in Der Spiegel. Prime Minister Haider Abadi has always talked about the rule of law and ending abuses, but nothing has ever been done with the multiple cases human rights groups have uncovered. The Rapid Reaction Division (RRD), which was featured in Der Spiegel has already given its response by calling the author a thief, and releasing two videos disputing the stories although they don’t accomplish that. One man shown being tortured in Der Spiegel is asked whether they he was abused and he said no. A woman denied she was raped, but in the Der Spiegel article and a follow up by the Toronto Star an RRD officer said he didn’t because she was on her period. In a second video a man who was reportedly killed by the RRD along with his two sons also denied any abuse and said his sons weren’t killed either. In Der Spiegel it was the RRD who said they took the men out and killed them after they were interrogated. The author didn’t see that happen. There were not only those discrepancies, but if the RRD did abuse these men they couldn’t be expected to admit it when the same unit put a camera in their face and questioned them about it. Torture and abuse is institutionalized within the ISF, and is used often in all kinds of cases even common criminal ones to obtain a confession. There have been cases of the ISF executing IS prisoners in the past as well. The RRD captain in Der Spiegel article also said his unit didn’t take prisoners and was proud of any abuse. All together that makes the story a believable one.
There was more progress in western Ninewa by the Hashd. Four villages around Baaj were captured during the day. The Hashd accomplished their first goal of seizing Qayrawan. They are now targeting Baaj where many IS elements were believed to have fled from Mosul. Finally, they wish to reach the Syrian border. Besides defeating the insurgents there are three other goals at work. One is to connect with Syria, which will help both the Iraqi and Syrian governments control the border area once again. That would also allow the pro-Iran Hashd groups to have a land bridge from Iran through Iraq to Syria, which Tehran could use to move men and supplies to assist the Assad government. Second, the Hashd are challenging the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Sinjar district. The KDP abandoned the area in 2014 when IS was advancing leading to the massacre of the local Yazidis. It eventually returned, but left several villages under militant control. The Hashd are now taking those towns and thumbing their nose at the Kurds by doing so. That has set off a war of words between the two sides with the KDP demanding the Hashd leave and the Hashd asserting their right to be there and portraying themselves as the liberators of the Yazidi regions. So far this has remained a verbal dispute, but it could escalate.
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