(ISW) ISIS’s resistance has become increasingly brutal over November 8 to 15 in response to the ISF’s advance towards Mosul’s city centre. Its defensive mechanisms include the use of the high number of civilians still living in the neighbourhoods as human shields to slow and deter the ISF. ISIS has deployed snipers to rooftops of still-inhabited houses, denying the ISF the ability to call in air strikes lest striking the families inside. ISIS has also been pulling civilians into the city from surrounding villages to be used as shields while executing hundreds of civilians accused of collaborating with the ISF.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirmed on November 11 that ISIS used blistering agents against both civilians and security forces in Qayyarah in late August. The report, following accounts of chlorine and mustard gas attacks in Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, and the burning sulphur plant north of Qayyarah, underscores that ISIS will continue to use chemical weapons as part of its defences as well. The ISF and Peshmerga have also been accused of human rights violations, which could undermine the mission to defeat and prevent the reconstitution of insurgent groups in Iraq. Amnesty International reported on November 10 that men in Federal Police uniforms had carried out extrajudicial killings of accused ISIS members in towns south of Mosul, while HRW accused in a November 15 report ISF members of mutilating ISIS corpses and executing surrendered militants, both of which constitute war crimes. HRW also issued a report on November 10 accusing both ISF and Peshmerga officials of unlawfully detaining or disappearing suspected ISIS militants at screening centres and camps around Mosul. Officials from the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Governments have denied the reports. Nevertheless, reports of human rights abuses underscore the high risk that the violations will increase as forces move into the dense urban terrain and the line between civilian and militant blurs. If the ISF fails to prove itself a better champion to Mosul’s population than ISIS was in 2014, it sets conditions for another insurgent group to exploit the seams between civilians and the government and resurge in ISIS’s wake.