By Praveen Swami
The Hindu: Indian workers construction workers trapped in Mosul have been press-ganged to build earthworks and defensive fortifications by Islamist insurgents holding the city, a senior Kurdish security official has told The Hindu. The men, Kurdish security services believe, are being taken between various locations in the city’s Sunni-dominated quarter, on the west bank of the Tigris River.
“There is no sign that ISIS intends to use the workers as hostages”, the source said, “and there has been no demand for a ransom either. Food and fuel are running short in Mosul, though, so the workers are probably facing considerable hardship.”
Families of the 39 Indians trapped in Mosul, many of whom were in contact with their loved ones until a fortnight ago, said ISIS had promised the men safety, and even offered to help secure back wages from their employer, a Dubai-based construction firm.
ISIS has executed Iraqi military officials, and killed large numbers of Shi’a and Christian Iraqis, but there have been no reports so far of threats to the hundreds of foreign workers trapped in territories it controls.
The Hindu had, earlier this week, interviewed refugees from Mosul saying they had seen South Asian workers labouring at ISIS defensive positions.
Little hope of rescue
Kurdish officials believe there is no imminent prospect of Mosul being freed from ISIS control, though Iraqi combat aircraft have staged attacks outside its urban limits. Iraq’s Ramadan counter-offensive has succeeded in opening the highway running north from Baghdad to Mosul.
However, the disorganised Iraqi offensive has so far been unable to clear ISIS from towns along the way, like Tikrit, despite air support and overwhelming superiority in numbers and equipment.
Hammad Hassan, a refugee who briefly visited Mosul earlier this week, told The Hindu the city was peaceful, with communication services, as well as some offices and shops, still functioning. The governance of the city, he said, had been taken over by officers of former dictator Saddam Husain’s regime, who was overthrown by the United States in 2002. ISIS fighters, however, roamed the streets, imposing a strict religious code of conduct on residents.
Mosul was attacked on June 9 by an ISIS unit seeking to free over 2,000 jihadists held in the city’s Badush prison-many held in the course of an insurgency which. The attack, which included multiple ambushes and car-bomb strikes, panicked Iraq’s 2 Division and 3 Division-with at least 60,000 troops on-ground-into abandoning their positions and fleeing.
Following the defeat in Mosul, the 4 Division, deployed at Salahuddin, and the 12 Division and 5 Division, stationed for the defence of Kirkuk, also abandoned their bases and an estimated $7 billion worth of equipment.
“The best available intelligence suggests ISIS had no intention of capturing the city”, the Kurdish official said. “They were as surprised as the rest of the world by how quickly the Iraqi army melted away”.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces have positioned themselves at Mosul’s suburbs, but say they will not move into the city unless ISIS attacks civilians on the east bank of the Tigris, home to Christians and Shabak, or Shi’a Kurds.
Kurdish troops have, however, fought ISIS around al-Hamdaniya, Kirkuk and Jaloula, using tanks and artillery, protecting areas populated by ethnic minorities and pushing back Islamist forces in an effort to create a buffer around their borders.
Forty Peshmerga have been killed in the fighting, and over a hundred injured, the Kurdish official said.