MOSUL, Iraq — “They chanted calling us rawafiz,” Ammar Hasan, an Iraqi soldier, said while describing the intense fighting between their forces and ISIS militants in eastern Mosul. They were so close to each other that they waged a war of words coupled with that of gunshots and grenades, house-to-house.
ISIS calls Shiite Muslims rawafiz — apostates to the Sunni majority and the extremist group therefore declared an all-out war on them.
“And we chanted saying ‘We are Ali-Shiites’,” Hasan said, in reference to Ali ibn al-Talib, the cousin of the prophet of Islam and also his son-in-law. He is a holy figure, particularly for Shiite Muslims.
Hasan is from Hilla, a predominantly Shiite city in central Iraq. He is fighting with his fellow soldiers in Mosul, a Sunni city that has been under the control of ISIS for more than two years.
They were fighting to capture the site of the prophet Jonah’s tomb, a shrine destroyed by ISIS in late 2014.
“He said ‘I will behead you like a sheep’,” Hasan recounted his verbal exchange with an ISIS militant. “I told him 'Woe, woe betide you. We are Ali-Shiites' and I threw a grenade and killed him.”
For Ahmad Jasm al-Zuhair, from Karbala, it was even more intense. He and his fellow soldiers captured an ISIS militant alive.
“This one here was afraid, he surrendered himself,” Zuhair said, standing in the street next to the dead body of a militant. “He turned himself in with his gun. But we killed him out of revenge for our friends.”
Both Hasan and Zuhair are among the ranks of the elite Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (ICTS), an effective force spearheading the Iraqi forces’ military offensive in Mosul. They are active in Mosul’s eastern and northeastern districts.
“We arrived here. They numbered about 8 or 10,” Zuhair explained the encounter with ISIS militants in a street located in Nabi Younis district. “They were chanting ‘Allahu akbar.’ They were in that house, and we were in that one. We threw grenades at them. We killed two of them, and this one here was afraid. He surrendered. We shot a rocket at that house, and he turned himself in with his gun. But we took revenge for our friends and killed him.”
Yasr Hussein, an Iraqi soldier from Saawa, also said he had a war of words with ISIS militants.
“We told them ‘Ali is with us’,” he said, again in reference to the Islamic figure. “Who is with you?”