BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Islamic State militants summarily killed 21 civilians in Mosul in the last three days, most of them accused of collaborating with the Iraqi forces who are attacking the city, a medical source in Mosul said.
The city’s forensic medical department was notified of the killings, the source said. No bodies have emerged, unlike last week when 20 corpses were strung up across Mosul in a public warning against cooperating with the army.
Human Rights Watch meanwhile said that Iraqi soldiers, militiamen and civilians had mutilated the bodies of Islamic State militants south of Mosul.
A 100,000-strong alliance of troops, security forces, Kurdish peshmerga and Shi’ite militias, backed by U.S.-led coalition air strikes, has almost surrounded Mosul, Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq.
The ultra-hardline Islamic State, which has ruled Mosul since sweeping through northern Iraq in 2014, has imposed a ruthless authority across the city, crushing dissent, killing opponents and forcing people to follow their strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Residents say most of their victims are dumped in mass graves outside Mosul because the militants deem their opponents apostates unworthy of religious funeral. Families only learn the fate of relatives from lists delivered to medics at the morgue.
The medical source said a new list of 21 names was handed over in recent days.
“As usual there were no bodies, just names of people executed by the organization for a variety of reasons,” the source said. “Now most of the killings are on charges of collaboration with the Iraqi security services”.
Before the military campaign started on Oct. 17, people were detained and investigated for months. Now they were held for as little as two weeks before being released or killed - either shot, their throats slit or other methods, the source said.
The accelerated killings took place as Iraqi counter terrorism forces battle to expand their foothold in the city’s eastern neighborhoods.
Officers say their progress has been slowed by the presence of more than a million civilians still living in Mosul. But they say some of their operations have been assisted by information provided by residents about Islamic State military positions.
For families of missing people, waiting for news is almost unbearable. Discovering their fate can be immeasurably worse.
One Mosul resident told Reuters how he helped his neighbors try to trace their 24-year-old son after he was arrested by Islamic State militants outside his house three weeks ago.
“We heard that they’d found a mobile phone on him,” he said.
The jihadis have cracked down on communications with the outside world, banning the use of mobile phones and confiscating satellite dishes to prevent people from seeing the progress made by Iraqi forces.
“Ten days ago, all news of him was cut off,” said the resident. Then yesterday we were shocked to see his name on the list of those killed.”
“There was no body, and his family couldn’t hold a mourning ceremony for him - his mother is suffering from great shock and was taken to hospital.”
Last week, at least 20 bodies of people killed by Islamic State were hung up across the city - five crucified at a traffic junction - in a public warning to residents against any cooperation with the Iraqi military.
Residents said the militants’ Hisba force, a police unit that enforces strict Islamic law, was also seen on the streets.
Civilians are also caught up in the fighting. One resident who accompanied a relative to the Salam hospital, on the eastern bank of the Tigris River which divides the city, said 10 people were admitted in 24 hours, three of whom died from wounds.
Another resident said Islamic State fighters fired rockets from sites close to his 17 July district of western Mosul towards the east where special forces and an army division are pushing into the city.
“The rockets pass over us,” he said. “We hear the sound of them being launched and we see smoke in the sky”.
On the other side of the battle, Human Rights Watch said the bodies of at least five Islamic State fighters were mutilated and one militant had been executed after surrendering on Oct. 3 when the military and Sunni Muslim tribal fighters repelled an attack on Qayyara, 60 km (40 miles) south of Mosul.
“The Iraqi government should control its own forces and hold them accountable if it hopes to claim the moral upper hand in its fight against ISIS,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director of the New York-based organization.
“The failure to hold commanders and abusers to account does not bode well for the looming battle inside Mosul.”
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said any abuses were isolated cases of revenge.
“Maybe some crimes happen here and there, but I consider it as homicide when some people take revenge against Daesh (Islamic State) by themselves,” he told reporters.
Footage filmed by a local fighter and verified by Human Rights Watch show tribal fighters kicking and spitting on the corpses of Islamic State fighters, HRW said in a report.
One video depicts men in military and civilian attire encircling an Islamic State fighter and shooting him at close range.
Corpses in other videos are dragged behind pickup trucks, while photos examined by Human Rights Watch show bodies of Islamic State fighters stripped naked, strung up by the leg or covered in blood with internal organs removed.
Mutilating corpses and killing captured combatants or civilians are war crimes, Fakih said.
Reuters could not independently confirm the actions. An Iraqi military spokesman did not respond to a request for comment and a government spokesman was not available.
Amnesty International last week accused Iraqi forces of killing and torturing civilians suspected of ties to Islamic State south of Mosul. The authorities denied the report, saying local residents, not government forces, were responsible.
Editing by Angus MacSwan