BAGHDAD – On the quiet streets of Mosul, fighters from the Islamic State group are killing suspected spies, blocking roads and planting bombs ahead of a showdown with Iraqi forces.
Residents who have endured more than two years of militant rule describe a city under siege, and they say a new sense of terror has set in since Iraq announced the start of a long-anticipated operation to liberate its second-largest city.
Three residents who spoke with The Associated Press by telephone described a ghost town where people only venture out to buy basic goods that are running low.
They said large groups of IS militants have left the city in recent weeks, but those who remain have become increasingly brutal, killing anyone suspected of trying to communicate with the outside world. For that reason, the residents spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.
"The situation inside Mosul is terrifying," said one of them, a merchant. He said he has stocked food, water and cooking gas for 40 days and bought an oven to bake bread.
IS released a propaganda video Tuesday showing bustling streets in Mosul, with residents going about their business, with one grilling meat over open coals, and saying all is well.
The individuals who spoke to the AP painted a very different picture.
They say IS militants patrol Mosul’s streets on bicycles or motorbikes to make for smaller targets from the air. Other fighters are preparing for war by closing roads with sand berms and concrete walls, and readying barrels of oil and tires to set ablaze in order to obscure the visibility of warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition.
The extremists also have grown increasingly paranoid and violent. On Sunday evening, a resident said the fighters shot a man twice in the head in front of his family and neighbors. His crime: possession of a SIM card for a cellphone.
A few days earlier, five men accused of spying were killed by a firing squad in a public square.
Mosul is completely dark at night because IS forbids generators, fearing the lights could draw airstrikes.
Residents heard about the offensive on the radio, he said, with the city rattled by airstrikes on its outskirts.
Fearing a mass exodus from the city, which is still home to 1 million people, the coalition has dropped leaflets telling people to stay inside. Human rights groups worry many will run from Mosul to other areas held by IS out of fear they could be treated even worse by their purported liberators.