Iraqi forces try to weed out IS from those fleeing Mosul
An Iraqi officer shuffled through identity cards as he sat at a battered desk by the side of the dust-blown highway heading east from the city of Mosul.
Six men in dirt-spattered tracksuits huddled nearby, waiting on a concrete slab, part of the latest convoy of civilians to flee fighting as government forces try to oust Islamic State (IS) jihadists from the city.
Clutching a phone to his ear, the officer stood up and read out the men’s names one by one, waiting a second to receive a word from the person on the other end. He then handed them back their identity cards and let them go.
Eventually, only one man remained. The officer repeated his name several times, his voice rising. Suddenly, he grabbed the man and started hauling him into a makeshift cell at the back of what was once a roadside car workshop.
“Everyone in Mosul knows who the terrorists are,” said Lieutenant Ali of Iraq’s special forces, part of a group of officers involved in the screening. Some 70,000 civilians have fled the violence since Iraqi forces started the offensive to retake Mosul last month.
After more than two years of extremist rule over the city of more than a million inhabitants, the authorities are desperate to stop any jihadists escaping among the throngs of displaced civilians.
To do this, they say they use a database of intelligence collected from different sources, including Western spy agencies, old records and Mosul residents who lived under IS.