which they fear will bring “the whole world” to fight over their city.
Militants have banned civilians from leaving the city, and have set up checkpoints on roads out and blown up the homes of those who do flee as punishment and to deter others.
But while leaving can mean trekking through minefields, and the risk of discovery and punishment by Isis, those who stay know they face airstrikes, street battles, a potential siege by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the grim possibility of being used as human shields by Isis.
Isis has used civilians for protection in other cities it lost control of in recent months, including Falluja in Iraq and Jarabulus in northern Syria.
Militants have already moved into residential areas to try to blunt the impact of US airstrikes, which are now landing near ordinary homes.
“The kids have been going crazy because the US jets bomb Isis positions close to residential areas. The noise is horrible, windows get broken, the whole house shakes, and people are hysterical,” said Abu Ammar, 47, who fled the city recently with his family.
They spent six hours walking in the dark through fields they feared were full of mines to avoid Isis checkpoints. Four other families who planned to leave with them pulled out at the last minute, deciding that the risk of leaving was even greater than that of staying.
Meanwhile, Iraqi police and hospital officials confirmed the death toll from a suicide bombing at a funeral gathering in northern Baghdad had increased to 31, with another 65 people wounded.
The attack reportedly occurred at about lunchtime on Saturday, the officials told the Associated Press, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Those stuck in Mosul are digging makeshift bomb shelters, stockpiling food and, as the battle draws closer, mostly staying at home to avoid bombs or provoking militants.
Isis has banned mobile phones, but after midnight the city is alive with whispered calls, as the people of Mosul catch up with loved ones outside the city, or sometimes plan their own escape.
So far, up to 600,000 civilians have fled the coming offensive, and a similar number are believed to still be living in Mosul, the UN says, with up to 60,000 Isis fighters among them.
The weighing up of how best to minimise the many threats to their lives – from Isis, US bombs, minefields or stray bullets – is the main thing on Mosul residents’ minds. It is the main topic of discussion if they think no Isis informants are around.
“Its complicated and almost impossible to get out now, but here people have nothing to talk about except the horrific war that will be launched against the city soon,” said Amina Najib, 45, a mother of nine who decided eventually to stay.
She has seen many wars, and is most worried about the practical challenges of surviving a drawn-out fight for the city. Many families who do not have a relative in Isis are struggling to pay for food after two years of economic stagnation under the group’s control.
“The word ‘war’ does not terrify me: the only difference this time is that we do not have enough money to stockpile supplies at home in case the fighting lasts a long time,” Najib said by phone.
In mosques and markets, loudspeakers urge Mosul residents to join the “jihad” for the city, and boast of stockpiles of weapons and battle-ready fighters, although residents say many of the men are injured from battles elsewhere.
There may also be reluctant residents among their ranks, who joined up to support their families as life in the city got more desperate but have little real loyalty for the group. Reuters has reported Isis executed dozens of men, including a senior commander, after discovering they planned to switch sides and help deliver the city to Iraqi forces.
Below are some stories of people trapped in Mosul and others who recently fled. Some names have been changed to protect them and their family members still living under Isis control.
Amina Najib, 45, speaking from Mosul city centre
People here have nothing to talk about except the horrific war that will be launched against the city soon. But in the end we reckoned it was better to stay home than risk getting caught by Isis trying to flee. My son has already had 20 lashes just for using a mobile in the street.
I prepared a room in the house as a shelter with just some wheat to make bread and a few kilos of rice.
Most locals don’t have any cash because the government stopped paying its employees two years ago, and all our savings are wiped out. Pensioners are the lucky ones, they still get their pension via credit card, so our money comes from my cousin who is a retired teacher.
People are worried about what comes after liberation. It is true we want to get rid of Isis but can you trust who will take power after?
Abdul Salam, 25, university student from Mosul, now a refugee in Erbil
In a way war has become part of our life, but Mosul’s locals are quite terrified about this particular battle, because the whole world is coming to fight Isis in our city.
People are digging shelters under their homes to try and hide in during bombing, but if the war lasts a long time there will be looting, because no one has many supplies.
My father decided to leave a month ago, to Turkey via Syria. I followed him with 10 other members of the family two weeks ago. We are all in Erbil now waiting for the liberation to go home, although our house was blown up by Isis after someone tipped them off that we had fled the city.
My sister and many relatives are still in Mosul, they only call us after midnight for fear of being spotted using the phone by Isis militants. They are using loudspeakers in mosques and markets to urge people to join the jihad and defend their city.
I won’t go back to Mosul if Shia militias take the city, we saw what they did in other liberated cities, filling them with rancour and sectarianism.
Abu Ammar, 47, from Mosul, now a refugee
We had run through all our savings and sold lots of our belongings for very little just to cover the daily basics for my six children. Thank God, I owned my house: it would have been a real disaster if I was renting.
My kids hadn’t left the house for weeks, because they were afraid of the US airstrikes, they were bombing residential areas, close to our home. The noise is horrible, windows get broken, the whole house shakes, and people get hysterical.
I only went out if I needed to do some shopping, and tried my best to avoid Isis militants. Mostly we borrowed wheat from a neighbour, because we couldn’t afford to buy it. I’m a government employee and haven’t been paid for two years. The only places that are open in Mosul are petrol stations, and shops with goods from Syria.
I was trying to find a way out for months, a job somewhere to feed the kids, but I was scared to take the route to Erbil because it is planted with mines. I finally agreed to leave with four other families one night, but at the last minute the others dropped out.
They said they had been tipped off that Isis had set up many checkpoints along the way and might capture us. I insisted on going anyway. We walked through the night for more than six hours, with my kids frightened and begging to go back.
We hope the army would put an end to Isis reign of terror. People are mostly hiding at home, afraid of Isis because they don’t have weapons to fight them.
Um Ibrahim, 50, from Mosul
The situation is catastrophic, our life is miserable. If you have money, you can live in Mosul, otherwise, you will die of hunger and worry.
I have six kids but only one is with me, and I have not seen my sons and grandsons for a long time. They left because of Isis’s strict rules about what to wear and how to shave and lack of jobs in Mosul. I can hardly even speak to them, because Isis threaten locals for using mobile phones.
We are terrified but can’t think of fleeing, because I’m here with my husband who is sick and can hardly walk.
My daughter and her five kids are also still here; she could not leave because her husband has been detained by Isis. We thought a lot about fleeing but if we do Isis will take the house.
Its built on rocky ground, and its hard to dig a shelter, so we are going to stay in a room near the stairs. I have bought some wheat, rice, sugar, oil, tea, beans, chickpeas and tomato paste to get through the battle.
I’m scared because Isis bases are close to us, warplanes come to bomb our area from time to time. I have seen more than three wars in Iraq but this one is going to be the worst, with other wars the fighting was not near our house and the security was good.
We are worried that the warplanes would hit the houses round here where Isis militants are hiding now. Isis dug trenches around our district and took some of the houses as bases, and fighters are gathering on a hill behind us. In a way its like an island [of Isis militants].
Abu Bashar, farmer, from Mosul
Life in Mosul is a true hell, the city is full of beggars and widows, people are fed up of the poverty and injustice and you can’t say a word about the situation. Life under Isis is terribly hard.
There was an Isis video of captives who were gathered in an iron cage and then electrocuted. Those men were my cousins, they were killed because they are related to the commander of Mosul military operations.
We are desperately waiting for the army to liberate the city. After Fallujah and Tikrit, people in Mosul were optimistic that they will be liberated soon as well, but nothing happened and people’s savings are dwindling and they have nothing to feed their kids.
I planted vegetables in my farm but could hardly sell anything. I left a month ago because I ran out of money.
Isis are forcing people to vow to fight with them inside the city. Still, a tribal militia of Mosul locals has formed to fight Isis, a few of my relatives have joined to liberate their areas, take revenge for their sons who were killed by Isis and to stand in face of Shia militias if they come into the city with the army.
People are worried about Shia militias, they have already accused Mosul locals of handing the city to Isis. I would prefer the US army to Shia militia because Americans are not sectarian.
Muhammed Fawaz, 36, former security guard, from Mosul
These wars have stolen our lives. Locals do not want Isis after the nasty experience they have with them, they are waiting for the army to come to save them.
I was a security policeman in a Mosul oil company and declared my repentance when Isis took over the city, but after watching my colleagues taken one after the other, I left Mosul in fear of my life and went to Turkey.
I did not have enough money to take my family, and I used to speak to my wife regularly on the mobile but I can’t reach her any more. I’m very worried about my family as it has become very expensive now to get out of Mosul.
People are so scared but they can’t leave, Isis don’t allow them, they have set up countless checkpoints.
A few armed groups are formed by the families whose sons were slaughtered by Isis and they are launching daily attacks against Isis from liberated villages in Mosul. There will be no escape for Isis, they have lots of people who want revenge on them.