Residents of villages on the way to Mosul, Iraq, started returning to their homes liberated from Islamic State (Isis) control, on Wednesday (19 October), only to find the entrance of the villages and their houses rigged with booby-traps. The militants have destroyed most of the houses in the villages to build underground defences and have rigged them with explosives before abandoning them.
The village of Sheikh Amir, which had a mixed population of both Shias and Sunnis before IS (Daesh) captured it in 2014, was recaptured overnight by advancing Kurdish troops. Iraqi forces are gearing up to launch their final assault on militants to retake Mosul — an IS stronghold in Iraq since 2014.
Most parts of the town have reportedly been destroyed by Sunni militants of the terror group, especially houses belonging to Shias. "When I came to the edge of the village I didn't want to come in," a resident named Ali reportedly said. "I was shocked by the destruction. It made me sick."
Abbas Ahmad Hussein, a 36-year-old Shia who returned to the village to assess the damage, said he found no salvageable items from the wreckage of his house.
"I spent all my money to build this house and Daesh destroyed it," he was quoted by Reuters as saying. "My brother, my uncle and my cousins live around here and they destroyed all their houses too. They destroyed all the houses belonging to the Shi'ites," he added.
Testimony to his claims about IS hating Shias was found in the red graffiti that had been sprayed on one of the houses that read: "Shi'ites are non-believers."
However, Ali, a Sunni, was hopeful that the two communities can live together in the village again in the future. "Inshallah (God willing). I have more Shi'ite friends than Sunni friends," he said, noting "Daesh is a threat to all humanity."
Meanwhile, a powerful Shia militia has announced recently that it will join Iraqi forces in their offensive against the IS in the town of Tal Afar, about 55km west of Mosul. However, the Iraqi forces plan to keep them away from the main battlefields to avoid clashes with Sunni residents or soldiers.
"The Iranians and the (PMF) plan to take Tal Afar because of the Shi'ite significance and use that as a way to angle in to Mosul," Reuters quoted a senior Iraqi official as saying. "But they also want to use it as a way to angle into the Syria fight," the person added.
The Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), a coalition force of thousands of fighters — mostly Iranian-trained Shia militias, confirmed its support to government forces late on Tuesday.
However, the US is also averse to the PMF's participation in the anti-IS offensive. "As far as the Shi'ite PMF, the coalition only supports those elements that are under the direct command and control of the Iraqi security forces — and the Shi'ite PMF are not," Major General Gary Volesky, the commander of US-led coalition ground forces assisting the Iraqi forces, said.
"As far as what the Shi'ite PMF's role is, again, that is up to the government of Iraq and we (advise) them on our recommendations," Volesky added.