The Islamic State terrorist organization has created a terrifying entrance to a city that is believed to eventually become its new Iraqi stronghold, as the group released photos on social media showing eight lifeless bodies dangling from a metal checkpoint structure at the entrance to the town of Hawija.
The photos were first reported by the Daily Mail on Saturday and show the deceased bodies of the eight individuals hanging upside-down from a pavilion-like structure at the roadway entrance to Hawija, as cars drive by underneath the hanging bodies.
Although the hanging bodies are wearing military fatigues in the photos, it's not certain as to whether or not those individuals are captured Iraqi or Kurdish soldiers.
According to the Daily Mail, an ISIS fighter believed to be named Abu Al-Rahman poses in the photos alongside the hanging bodies. That particular militant has previously been pictured in other online photos that've featured severed heads and mutilated bodies. In those photos, he's seen posing with his index finger pointed toward the sky.
Hawija was the site of another well-known ISIS act of barbarity in February, when the group paraded 21 captured Kurdish soldiers held inside of individual cages through the town's streets as onlookers taunted them. In the video, an ISIS fighters said in Kurdish, "Our war is not with the Kurdish Muslim people but with the infidels and their treacherous agents."
Hawija, which is a mostly Sunni town in the Kirkuk province and lies off a highway connecting the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, was taken over by ISIS in June and since then the group has conquered neighboring villages.
ISIS leadership is believed to be planning to move the group's stronghold from Mosul to Hawija as the U.S.-led coalition continues with airstrikes on Mosul and the U.S. coordinates efforts between Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the city, according to the International Business Times.
Although Mosul is Iraq's second largest city, relocating the group's caliphate to Hawija will provide the group with a strategic advantage. Controlling Hawija gives the militantant group access to a road that leads to the key oil refinery in the town of Baji, which is Iraq's largest oil refinery and was retaken by Iraqi forces in November after it was conquered by the militant group.
IBT reports that ISIS has seized enough of Hawija's surrounding villages and has gained enough support from the Sunni villagers, who practice the same sect of Islam as ISIS, to be able to establish its new caliphate in the town.
Although the U.S. announced last week that it was training over 20,000 Kurdish and Iraqi soldiers to help retake Mosul from the approximate 2,000 ISIS militants in Hawija, Iraqi commanders and other officials have raised concerns about the Iraqi military's ability to retake Mosul by the April timetable that the U.S. has presented.
Kurdish Intelligence Chief Masrour Barzani also issued concerns about the U.S.'s timetable in speaking with The Washington Post last week in Irbil. Barzani stated that the Kurds need help from the Iraqis and other sunni groups if they're going to be successful in Mosul.
"Who is going to do the job?" Barzani asked. "Without the Iraqi army and, more specifically, Sunni elements within these forces, it will not produce the results that we all hope for."