FOR Iraqis living in the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, news is dwindling about the United States -backed army massing to the south for an assault on the city that could begin this year.
Soon after Iraqi forces established a foothold in the Makhmour area in February, about 60 km (40 miles) from the northern city, the jihadists began restricting access to television for its 1 million-strong population, according to residents.
With limited and erratic access to internet and mobile networks, civilians in Mosul have depended on satellite TV for their primary source of news from the outside world since Islamic State captured the city two years ago.
The timing of the crackdown is significant, according to local officials and analysts. They said Islamic State’s aim was to insulate residents and its own fighters from any further news about the advance of Iraqi forces.
This could reduce the chances of a co-ordinated uprising against Islamic State in the city and of people who could be used as “human shields” trying to flee, they said, as well as preventing morale among fighters falling.
The move reflects the importance of Mosul to the militants; the capital of Nineveh province is the largest under their control and regarded as their de facto capital.
Islamic State wants to prevent its fighters and civilians under its control from learning about its setbacks, said Nineveh provincial councilman Hassan al-Sabawi.
“They are scared of satellites because they give a realistic picture of the situation,” he said, in contrast to the group’s own one-sided media.
Mosul residents say they mostly watch Iraqi TV channels focused on Nineveh like al-Mousalia, al-Sharqiya and Nineveh al-Ghad, as well as pan-Arab stations Al Jazeera and Al Hadath.
Islamic State has removed satellite TV receivers from some cafes and markets and said they would be banned from all public spaces in one month, according to five residents contacted over the phone and internet.
In early April the group barred the sale and maintenance of satellite receiver boxes for household use, according to two local merchants contacted online.
“Three members of the Hisba (morality police) entered my shop and said, ‘From now on buying and selling satellite receivers is prohibited. They are a source of debauchery and immorality’,” one merchant said.