They want to unload on suicide bombers and errant air strikes, on the lack of food and medicine. They have questions about when to wave white flags and what to do with bodies in the rubble.
The underground radio station Radio al-Ghad, includes public-service messages that warn listeners inside shelters during bombardment. This is an excerpt of one of the calls in Mosul.
On calls made from the front lines in Mosul, listeners to Radio al-Ghad can hear mortar rounds falling as the government battles to retake the city. They can hear windows rattle, bursts of gunfire, children crying in a back room. A car bomb explodes next to Iraqi Special Forces armoured vehicles as they advance towards Mosul. Photo: AP
"There is a difference between hearing about the crimes and seeing them with your eyes," another caller told one of the station's hosts.
She begged Iraqi forces to hurry to recapture the city. Many of her neighbours still support IS, she said, "so it's hard to tell who is a friend and who is an enemy".
AdvertisementThe callers often speak in rushed whispers.
A mobile phone, even a SIM card hidden in a pocket or purse, can be a death sentence in Mosul, where IS militants have ordered "collaborators and spies" to be summarily executed. Iraqi soldiers man a checkpoint as oil wells burn on the outskirts of Qayara, near Mosul. Photo: AP
The station's founder is a 30-something tech entrepreneur who calls himself "Mohammad of Mosul" in interviews because he does not want to be targeted by IS or its supporters. He also insists on keeping the location of his station and most of the names of its hosts secret. He is concerned about car bombs. He will allow a reporter only to say the operation is in the Kurdish area of Iraq.
On a recent evening, during one of four call-in shows hosted each day, a dozen people from Mosul and the surrounding towns and villages telephoned the station and went on air live. A wounded Iraqi soldier at a field clinic in Gogjali, on the eastern outskirts of Mosul. Photo: AP
Callers are told to use an alias. The callers identify themselves with names like "Tear of an Oppressed", "Prisoner of Memories" and others such as "Mother of Ali" or "Son of Mosul".
The guests are also warned not to mention their exact location, both for their own protection and to foil intelligence-gathering by IS, who monitor the radio station. Iraqi families who fled the fighting in an open field on the Nineveh plain, north-east of Mosul. Photo: AP
The first call of the evening went like this:
Caller: Peace be upon you! An Iraqi Federal Police vehicle passes through a checkpoint in Qayara, south of Mosul. Photo: AP
Host: Peace to you, Son of Mosul! Where are you calling from?
Caller: From the left side (meaning the east side of the Tigris River in Mosul), from the liberated areas. Men accused of being Islamic State militants in the back of an Iraqi special forces armoured vehicle after being captured in Mosul. Photo: AP
Host: God willing, the whole of Mosul gets liberated, we want to hear soon that Mosul has completely been liberated.
Caller: It will be liberated by the help of God. What is left for Daesh [Islamic State]? Only to hide behind women? They protect themselves by women! Iraqi special forces advance towards IS-held territory in Mosul. Photo: AP
Host: God willing, God will give revenge for you, Son of Mosul, and for all the oppressed people in Mosul. Go ahead, tell me about the situation on the left side.
Caller: I only want to say one thing, do you know what? In al-Samah district the people are still under the destroyed houses, the houses have collapsed on top of them. Residents gather to receive food supplies being distributed in an area previously held by IS militants and now controlled by Iraqi forces in Mosul on Thursday. Photo: AP
Radio al-Ghad went on air in March 2015. Mohammad said he decided Mosul needed an alternative radio station after watching how IS operated.
"Their social media skills are high. Their psychologists are impressive," he said. "They get a lot of hits." Residents gather to receive food supplies in Mosul. Photo: AP
Their videos - such as the infamous "Clash of Swords" series - instilled fear among Iraqi troops and diminished their will to fight.
In 2014, IS conquered Mosul, then a city of about 2 million, in a couple of days as the Iraqi security forces retreated. Iraqi children who fled with their parents from fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State sit on a pickup as they wait to cross to a Kurdish-controlled area. Photo: AP
"Then I realised this is a media war," Mohammad said.
IS has its own radio station operating in Mosul, Radio al-Bayan ("The Dispatch").
"They use their transmitters to jam us - and we now use our transmitters to jam them," Mohammad said. "We're both on each other's frequencies all the time."
In the frequency wars, the anti-IS station now operates seven transmitters.
Before the government's offensive to recapture Mosul began in early October, hot topics on the call-in shows were IS bans on smoking, mobile phones and satellite dishes. Men complained about being forced to grow beards and women about full-face veils.
They also complained about taxes, arrests and street executions.
Now Radio al-Ghad includes public-service messages, warning listeners to shelter inside interior rooms during bombardment and to open windows to relieve the pressure so the glass doesn't blow in.
On a normal day, about 80 callers go live on air, most of them from Mosul. In recent days, many callers say they are being pounded both by IS mortars and shelling from Iraqi forces. They plead for the Iraqi army to be careful.
"Mother of Ali" said: "Honestly, we can't stand the bombings anymore, but we have no choice but to thank God and be more patient."
Another caller complained that "Daesh launches one or two rockets, but the Iraqi army bombing is very intense, the area is full of civilian families and they get hurt, so through your station I would like to ask them to decrease the bombings and to be more accurate."
The host thanks his callers - but when they begin to criticise the Iraqi army more than IS, he brings the conversation to a polite close.
On occasion, Radio al-Ghad has allowed suspected IS supporters to speak on air. They complain of distortions and lies.
Mohammad, the station director, recalled that one IS fan said: "'The people can leave Mosul at any time,' and the host said, 'OK, let them go.' If you live in Mosul, you know this is not true. You know if the gates to the city were open for an hour, Mosul would be empty."