MOSUL, Iraq: Sporadic clashes erupted in Mosul Tuesday, a day after Iraq’s prime minister declared “total victory” over Daesh (ISIS), with several airstrikes hitting the Old City neighborhood that was the scene of the fierce battle’s final days. Plumes of smoke rose into the air as Daesh mortar bombs landed near Iraqi positions and heavy gunfire could be heard on the western edge of the Old City.
At times heavy, the clashes underscored the dangers still posed by the militants after Iraqi forces announced they retook full control of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, three years after it was seized by militants bent on building a global caliphate.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International warned in a report released Tuesday that the conflict in Mosul has created a “civilian catastrophe,” with the militants carrying out forced displacement, summary killings and using civilians as human shields. The report also detailed violations by Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition.
“The scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives during the military operation to retake Mosul must immediately be publicly acknowledged at the highest levels of government in Iraq and states that are part of the U.S.-led coalition,” said Lynn Maalouf, the research director for Mideast at Amnesty.
The report, which covers the first five months of this year, noted how Daesh fighters moved civilians with them around the city, preventing them from escaping, creating battle spaces with dense civilian populations while “Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition failed to adapt their tactics.”
The Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led coalition “continued to use imprecise, explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated urban environments,” Amnesty stated, adding that some violations may constitute war crimes.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi came to Mosul Monday evening for the second day in a row to declare “total victory.” But he also alluded to the brutality of the conflict, saying the triumph had been achieved “by the blood of our martyrs.”
In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief urged Iraq’s government to ensure that human rights will be respected in post-Daesh Mosul.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described Mosul’s fall as the “turning point” in the conflict against Daesh, but warned the group continues to subject people to “daily horrors” in its remaining strongholds of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, and Hawijah, north of Baghdad.
He cited allegations of threats of collective punishment and forced evictions in Mosul by Iraqi security forces and their allies. He also cited three years of rights violations during Daesh’s control of Mosul, including abuses like sexual slavery of women and girls that “have left deep scars on Iraqi society.”
In Baghdad, Shiite politician Karim al-Nouri warned that defeating Daesh in Mosul doesn’t mean that “terrorism” is finished and urged the government to review its policies for dealing with Sunni areas of the country to “avoid previous mistakes that led to the emergence” of Daesh.
The government needs to work on “removing fears of marginalization and terrorism affiliation in Sunni areas,” said Nouri, a senior member of the Badr Organization. He said he believes the Iraqi security forces should stay in Mosul until it is fully secure, before handing over to local forces.
Lawmaker Intisar al-Jabouri from Ninevah province, where Mosul is the capital, said uprooting Daesh’s “extremism ideology” was key for a peaceful future in Mosul, which reeled under the militants’ harsh rule for three years.
She urged Baghdad to invest in “good relations” between the residents and the security forces.
The Daesh defeat in Mosul dealt a huge blow to the group’s so-called Islamic “caliphate” but also killed thousands, left entire neighborhoods in ruins and displaced nearly 900,000 from their homes.
Thousands of civilians are estimated to have been killed in the fight for the city, according to the provincial council of Ninevah – a toll that does not include those still believed buried under collapsed buildings.
Iraq’s military does not release official casualty numbers for soldiers killed in combat.
A statement late Monday from Daesh claimed its fighters were still attacking Iraqi soldiers in the Al-Maydan area of Mosul’s Old City, purportedly killing and wounding many and seizing weapons and ammunition. “The soldiers of the caliphate in Mosul continue to accomplish epics until they achieve either victory or martyrdom,” it said.
Tuesday, Daesh has captured most of the Imam Gharbi village on the western bank of the Tigris River, some 70 kilometers south of Mosul, an Iraqi army officer and residents said, deploying guerrilla-style tactics as its self-proclaimed “caliphate” crumbles. Daesh launched its attack on the village last week, in the kind of strike it is expected to deploy now as Iraqi forces regain control over cities.