TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior Hashd al-Shaabi (Iraqi volunteer forces) commander disclosed that the US troops have helped ISIL chief commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi escape the western part of the city of Mosul in Northern Iraq.
“The US forces have paved the way for ISIL leader (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) to flee from Western Mosul to al-Qayravan region,” the Arabic-language al-Sumeria TV quoted Javad al-Tayebavi as saying.
“Our intelligence unit has confirmed that al-Baghdadi is moving between al-Qayravan and al-Hazar region in Southern Mosul.
The report came as Reuters news agency reported that the US and Iraqi officials believe Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has left operational commanders behind with diehard followers to fight the battle of Mosul, and is now hiding out in the desert, focusing mainly on his own survival.
It is impossible to confirm the whereabouts of the ISIL “caliph”, who declared himself the ruler of all Muslims from Mosul’s Great Mosque after his forces swept through Northern Iraq in 2014, it said.
But US and Iraqi intelligence sources say an absence of official communication from the group’s leadership and the loss of territory in Mosul suggest he has abandoned the city, by far the largest population center his group has ever held.
He has proved to be an elusive target, rarely using communication that can be monitored, and moving constantly, often multiple times in one 24-hour cycle, the sources say.
From their efforts to track him, they believe he hides mostly among sympathetic civilians in familiar desert villages, rather than with fighters in their barracks in urban areas where combat has been under way, the sources say.
At the height of its power two years ago, the ISIL ruled over millions of people in territory running from Northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys to the outskirts of Baghdad in Iraq.
The US-backed Iraqi forces began an operation five months ago to recapture Mosul, a city at least four times the size of any other the group has held.
The 100,000-strong Iraqi forces fully captured the Eastern half of Mosul in January, and commanders began an operation to cross the Tigris and take the western half last month. Progress has since been steady and the coalition says its victory is now inevitable, which would dismantle the caliphate in Iraq.
The intelligence sources point to a sharp drop in ISIL’s postings on social media as evidence that al-Baghdadi and his circle have become increasingly isolated.
Al-Baghdadi himself has not released a recorded speech since early November, two weeks after the start of the Mosul battle, when he called on his followers to fight the “unbelievers” and “make their blood flow as rivers.”
Since then, sporadic ISIL statements mention attacks carried out by suicide bombers at various locations in Iraq and Syria, but place no particular emphasis on Mosul, despite the city being the main center of fighting.
Neither al-Baghdadi nor any of his close aides released any comment on the fall of the Eastern part of the city in January.
The group’s presence on Telegram, a social media network that had become its main platform for announcements and speeches, has tapered off. The US-led coalition estimates that the ISIL’s activity on Twitter has fallen by 45 percent since 2014, with 360,000 of the group’s Twitter accounts suspended so far and new ones usually shut down within two days.