In a last-ditch attempt to block the advance of the Iraqi forces, "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) fighters in west Mosul have been throwing society's most vulnerable members into their path, Iraqi officials tell Diyaruna.
According to the Iraqi police and a human rights group, ISIL has preyed on the mentally ill, the physically disabled and children, taking advantage of their vulnerability and fragility to use them as human shields or suicide bombers.
On April 1st, Iraqi police reported that ISIL elements had booby-trapped a mentally ill man and pushed him towards an area where Iraqi forces were concentrated, before a sniper in the federal police forced him to retreat.
The sniper, who had been watching the man's movements through the scope of his rifle, fired around him to frighten him, and eventually succeeded in stopping his advance without harming him, police said.
There have been other similar incidents since the push to liberate west Mosul began on February 19th, according to the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights.
During the last week of March, ISIL elements pushed at least 10 people with mental or physical disabilities into the battle in al-Tanak neighbourhood, Observatory director Mustafa Saadoun told Diyaruna.
ISIL fighters used them as human shields to hide behind or rigged them with explosives to disrupt the movement and progress of the Iraqi forces, he said.
Under threat of death, he added, ISIL "deceived or forced" these vulnerable people to approach the lines of contact with military units.
In this way, it attempted to hold the Iraqi forces responsible for any harm that might come to them, in order to serve its propaganda efforts, Saadoun said.
Forcible recruitment of children
The group also forcibly recruited hundreds of children, Saadoun said, and formed mobile teams to take them from their homes to its headquarters.
Since the operation to liberate west Mosul began, ISIL has recruited about 300 children between the ages of 11 and 17, he said, mostly from the districts of al-Tanak, al-Zanjili, al-Rifai and al-Seha.
"ISIL teams were threatening the children's parents, informing them that the group is in dire need of them, and that they are the soldiers of the caliphate now," calling on them to take up arms or provide logistical support, he said.
Drawing civilians into the battle in this way shows "the vileness of terrorists, how they are stripped of all human values, and that they are ready to do everything that is ugly and disgusting to survive", he said.
The April 1st incident with the mentally ill man demonstrates the degree of ISIL's criminality and inhumanity, said federal police commander Lt. Gen. Raed Shaker Jawdat.
"It stresses in return our troops' keenness to show the utmost restraint and wisdom in dealing with such situations from a moral, humanitarian stance and with high professionalism," he told Diyaruna.
"During our battles on the western side of Mosul, specifically in the hotels complex, the train station, Bab al-Toub and Qadeeb al-Ban, we arrested dozens of children who ISIL had forced to join its ranks," Jawdat said.
They were transferred to police stations in liberated neighbourhoods of Mosul and were eventually handed over to their families, he said.
No respect for human life
"ISIL has engaged in every form of crime," Jawdat said.
It forces children to leave their childhoods behind so it can use them as fighters and suicide bombers, he said, and booby traps the mentally ill and disabled to use as human shields, "without any respect for their humanity".
All this proves ISIL has not only lost the battle but also has lost its viability as an organisation that is able to sustain itself over the long term, he added.
Federal police are doing everything in their power to prevent ISIL from threatening or exploiting civilians, he said.
For their part, he said, federal police are using intelligence information to ensure they hit the right targets when battling ISIL and have been refraining from the excessive use of force in order to prevent loss of life and infrastructure.
Ninawa provincial council member Khalaf al-Hadidi told Diyaruna he was horrified to learn of ISIL's exploitation of the disabled and its forcible recruitment of children.
"These incidents of exploitation and systematic criminality must motivate us to exhaust all options to protect and save our trapped people," he said.