Iraqis being used as human shields

QAYARA, Iraq (AP) — For three months, as Islamic State militants ranged across farms and villages south of Mosul, they took Sayid Naheer, his wife and eight children with them. The family was among tens of thousands of people the U.N. says have been rounded up to be used as human shields.

Their forced march covered more than 12 miles, stopping in villages for days or weeks. When Naheer’s family finally escaped this week after an air raid and made it to a government checkpoint near the front lines, the children’s faces were caked with dust and their feet had been rubbed raw by their plastic sandals.

The U.N. human rights office said Friday the tens of thousands of civilians were in the town of Hamam al-Alil, south of Mosul, doubling its population to about 60,000.

The Associated Press reported earlier this week that IS militants had gone door to door in villages south of Mosul, ordering hundreds of people at gunpoint to march north into the city, the largest under their control. Mosul is the focus of a massive Iraqi military offensive launched Oct. 17 against the extremists.

“They said, ‘the army is coming, and they will kill you and rape your women, so you must come with us,'” Naheer said of the IS militants. He and his family were held in abandoned homes, and were allowed to bring their sheep along for food.

Then, Thursday, a volley of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition pounded the fighters’ positions. “They all just fled, ran away and left us,” he said.

There was no way to independently confirm the account, but it tracks with those given by other witnesses to the forced displacement who have spoken to the AP in the past week.

A U.S. general said thousands have been rounded up, and that the coalition airstrikes are trying to disrupt the militants without harming civilians.

In Hamam al-Alil, the militants separated former members of the security forces from women and children, and took both groups to Mosul, the U.N. said.

The fighters killed 190 former security forces Wednesday at the Ghazlani military base on the southern edge of Mosul, while 42 civilians were killed at another base for refusing to join IS. Another 24 people were reportedly shot to death Tuesday, the U.N. added.