Fear In Interrogation Room, Death In The Street: Iraq Roots Out Isis

Fear In Interrogation Room, Death In The Street: Iraq Roots Out Isis

 More than two years after the militants took over Mosul and proclaimed a caliphate for all Muslims, Iraqi forces, backed by a U.S.-led coalition, have retaken the eastern half of the city, and now have the western half in their sights.

Although thousands of militants have been killed since the start of the campaign three months ago, Islamic State (ISIS) is expected to live on, going back underground and reverting to its insurgent tactics of old.

That means the enemy will be less visible to Iraqi forces, and the fight against it more covert, like using children and young men as fighters.

"They have planted him as a sleeper cell," Colonel Amer al-Fatlawi said, referring to a captured 17-year old boy.

The boy appeared harmless, but Fatlawi, the head of intelligence for the 16th division of the Iraqi army, suspected he may pose a threat after ISIS’ days of ruling over vast swathes of territory comes to an end.

Slight and wearing jeans, the boy said he was one of a group of some 150 men who gathered at a local mosque around one year ago and were taken to a training camp nearby.

The daily routine involved waking at dawn for prayer, followed by breakfast, physical exercise, lessons in Islamic doctrine and how to use a rifle.

After three weeks, the recruits were allowed to go home on a break: "They told us to come back, but I didn't. I was scared," said the boy.

Fatlawi was not convinced: "They all say they quit," he said, skeptically. "We will interrogate him and get information. If you know your enemy, he is easy to find."

As Iraqi forces rout ISIS from the east, they are learning more about the workings of the militant group, which left behind a formidable paper trail.

On Fatlawi's desk was a stack of documents recovered from ISIS bases in northern Mosul, including papers detailing the Jihadi group's weapon inventory.

Nearby, men emerge from their houses acclimatizing to the new reality of Iraqi soldiers patrolling the streets instead of ISIS.

One resident still had a full beard and wore his trousers tucked into his socks, in keeping with the dress code imposed by ISIS - modelled on the way the Muslim Prophet Mohammed is thought to have dressed in the seventh century by exposing the ankles.

The rules were enforced by the Hisba or vice squad, which cut people's trousers if they fell below the ankle, and whipped or fined those who trimmed their beards.

"Why haven't you shaved your beard?" asked Captain Aras angrily, ignoring the man's protest that he was a devout Muslim. "Shave it all off!" Another soldier knelt down, un-tucked the man's trousers and cut the elastic bottoms with a knife.