Iraq’s more determinant challenges will be to prevent the emergence of “al-Qaeda 3.0”.
Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi government forces have pushed ISIL out of the northern town of Fadiliya, which lies just 4km away from Mosul, the group’s last major bastion in the country.
Several residents and a Peshmerga commander said it took only 20 fighters to control a town whose population once numbered 5,000 before many fled, so pervasive was fear of the group.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from Fadiliya, said that though the town was now under Peshmerga control, sporadic fighting was ongoing.
“The Peshmerga has managed to capture 95 towns and villages in and around that area,” Elshayyal said. “Any building that is on the path towards Fadiliya, or towards several other towns to get to where this fight against ISIL is taking place, has been levelled to the ground … eradicating any position ISIL could take.”
Residents hung white flags of surrender from their homes, hoping to avoid being targeted by air raids.
A short distance away in Mosul, ISIL’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi walked into a mosque two years ago to declare a caliphate. The battle for the city, Iraq’s second biggest, is expected to see the fiercest fighting the country has experienced since the US-led invasion in 2003.
Children joyfully ran through the streets of Fadiliya singing songs and chanting: “Peshmerga, Peshmerga, Peshmerga”.
As Iraqi forces moved through the town and greeted villagers, there was no longer any sign of the ISIL fighters, alive or dead, Elshayyal reported.
“If you are caught smoking you get whipped with a water hose 50 times in public,” said Othman Mahmoud, as his friend handed around a pack of cigarettes with a smile, told the Reuters news agency, recalling life under the group.
A teenager joined the gathering, describing a code imposed with ferocity on every aspect of personal life, right down to facial hair.
“If you are caught growing sideburns you get whipped 25 times,” he said. “There were so many things we could not do.”
Eleven days into the biggest ground operation in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion, army and federal police units were fighting off sniper fire and suicide car bombs south of the town of Hammam al-Alil, where some reports suggested ISIL had been executing prisoners.
The United Nations on Friday said the group had snatched “tens of thousands” of men, women and children from areas around Mosul and was using them as human shields in the city as government forces advanced.
ISIL killed at least 232 people on Wednesday, including 190 former Iraqi security forces (ISF) and 42 civilians who refused to obey their orders, UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in comments that could not be independently verified.
“Credible reports suggest that ISIL has been forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes in sub-districts around Mosul and has forcibly relocated numbers of civilians inside the city itself since the operation began on October 17 to restore Iraqi government control over Mosul,” Shamdasani told a briefing.
Nearly 8,000 families, of roughly six people each, were abducted in sub-districts including Shura, she said.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on Monday that a US-led coalition involved in the effort to retake Mosul was encouraging ISIL fighters to move from Iraq to Syria.
Speaking after talks with his Russian and Iranian counterparts in Moscow, Muallem said the coalition wanted the fighters to move from Iraq’s Mosul to Syria’s Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital.