| SOUTH OF MOSUL, Iraq, March 6
SOUTH OF MOSUL, Iraq, March 6 The mouth of the
tunnel is hardly visible on a muddy hillside overlooking Mosul,
where fighting now rages between Iraqi forces and Islamic State
In less turbulent times, trains ran through it on their way
to or from Mosul, but when the militants overran the area in the
summer of 2014, they barricaded both ends, ripped up the tracks
and built an assault course inside, on which to train their
Iraqi forces discovered the underground training camp after
regaining control of the hillside last month in the early stages
of a campaign to dislodge Islamic State militants from Mosul's
Locals tipped them off about the location of the camp, which
reveals the extent of Islamic State’s determination, despite the
overwhelming number and firepower of the forces arrayed against
it, which are backed by a U.S.-led coalition.
Clambering down a bank of earth that concealed the entrance,
two Iraqi soldiers went into the tunnel - about 7 m (yards) high
by 5 m (yards) wide, lighting the way with their mobile phones.
They illuminated Islamic State slogans painted along the
walls of the tunnel - around half a kilometre (0.3 mile) in
length - and a series of obstacles, which one soldier tried out.
"Their training is similar to ours," said Kadhem
al-Gharrawi, a member of the Rapid Response Division, an elite
Interior Ministry Unit. "It's tough training for special
It is not clear how many recruits passed through the camp or
what became of them.
The physical drills complemented the group's ideological
training, evidence of which is contained in booklets littering
the floor of the tunnel, detailing its uncompromising doctrine.
A leaflet titled "Types of Idolatry", lies beside empty
cartons of orange juice drunk by the recruits and packaging of
the boots and balaclava headgear they wore.
The railway was built in the early 20th century, as part of
the line connecting Berlin to Baghdad.
It was out of use when Islamic State overran Mosul in the
summer of 2014 and declared a modern-day caliphate spanning Iraq
and Syria, pledging to expand across the world.
"By the will of God, we will conquer Rome," reads one mural
painted on the wall of the tunnel against the background of a
blood red sun.
Near the start of the assault course lie several backpacks
full of sand, which were worn by recruits to weigh them down as
they went over the obstacles, to increase the difficulty.
After coming off the death slide, recruits would have swung
along monkey bars and then thrown themselves flat to crawl under
barbed wire, past the words "We will prevail despite the global
Crusader alliance" painted on the wall.
Red arrows point to the direction in which they were
supposed to scramble over a wall - still covered in scuff marks
made by their boots.
The recruits appear to have slept there some of the time:
bedding is strewn in two chambers dug into the sides of the
tunnel, including a pink duvet cover decorated with cartoon
character Mickey Mouse.
The militants also installed lighting in the tunnel, powered
by a generator set in the hillside. There was a medical clinic
in a portacabin, as well as four shower cubicles and a place to
perform ablutions before prayer in a tunnel section labelled
Another area was designated for washing dishes, not far from
the slogan: "Heaven is jihad in the path of God".
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)