AntiWar.com & Stephanie Nebehay and Patrick Markey / Reuters & Angus MacSwan and Patrick Markey / Reuters – 2017-03-24 23:31:55
UN Warns Worst Is Yet to Come With 400,000 Civilians Trapped in Western Mosul
Jason Ditz /AntiWar.com
(March 23, 2017) — Early in the Iraqi government’s invasion of Mosul, a decision was made to tell the civilian population not to flee. At the time, this was meant to allow them to target those fleeing as ISIS fighters, and to make up for the lack of preparation to absorb civilians for the long period of time such a fight was going to take.
Iraq is rethinking that decision now, with fighting in densely populated neighborhoods a growing problem, and with some five months of solid fighting creating a growing humanitarian crisis. UN officials are now warning, with some 400,000 trapped in western Mosul, the worst is yet to come.
And that’s saying a lot, since the current worst has soaring civilian casualties, with US airstrikes killing 230 civilians just overnight in a single neighborhood. The situation is already calamitous, and there really is no sign of things getting better any time soon.
Belated attempts to get the populace to flee have faced major obstacles, both in that many neighborhoods are too dangerous to get out of, and in that even those who do manage to get out are finding the refugee camps full up. Those who can are trying to get through Peshmerga checkpoints to flee even further, but for many without the proper paperwork that too is an exercise in futility.
UN: ‘Worst Is Yet to Come’
With 400,000 Trapped in West Mosul
Stephanie Nebehay and Patrick Markey / Reuters
GENEVA / MOSUL, Iraq (March 23, 2017) — About 400,000 Iraqi civilians are trapped in the Islamic State-held Old City of western Mosul, short of food and basic needs as the battle between the militants and government forces rages around them, the United Nations refugee agency said on Thursday.
Many fear fleeing because of Islamic State snipers and landmines. But 157,000 have reached a reception and transit center outside Mosul since the government offensive on the city’s west side began a month ago, said Bruno Geddo, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Iraq.
“The worst is yet to come. Because 400,000 people trapped in the Old City in that situation of panic and penury may inevitably lead to the cork-popping somewhere, sometime, presenting us with a fresh outflow of large-scale proportions,” he said.
Fighting in the past week has focused on the Old City, with government forces reaching as close as 500 meters to the al-Nuri Mosque, from where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate spanning parts of Iraq and Syria in July 2014.
The hardline militants are now on the back foot, with their stronghold in Syria also under attack. But they still hold an estimated 40 percent of western Mosul and the campaign to recapture it could yet take weeks.
The government halted offensive operations on Thursday morning due to cloudy weather, which makes it difficult to bring in air support. Later, Federal Police reinforcements moved toward the Old City and the troops were preparing to storm the area and retake the mosque, a police spokesman said.
“Dozens of Daesh (IS) snipers are still positioned on rooftops of the Old City high buildings, posing a threat to our soldiers,” he said.
“We are waiting for the weather to improve so air strikes can compromise Daesh snipers and pave the way for the imminent advance and minimize casualties among our troops.”
A police sergeant named Mohamed, sheltering in an empty villa about 300 meters from the line as sporadic mortar and sniper fire came for IS positions, said: “They are using everything against now”.
Waleed, a displaced man from a district on the edge of the Old City, joined other mud-splattered families being loaded on to trucks for transport to camps.
“Everyone is hungry, there is no food and people are starving. We left last night when the army opened a way for us,” he told Reuters.
COLD NIGHTS, LITTLE FOOD
The UNHCR’s Geddo, speaking at Hamman al-Alil 20km (15 miles) south of Mosul, said the number of civilians streaming out was increasing and an average 8,000-12,000 per day had reached the displaced persons facility.
“We also heard stories of people running away under the cover of early morning fog, running away at night, of trying to run away at prayer time when the vigilance at ISIS checkpoints is lower,” he said, in remarks made public from Geneva.
Food, fuel and electricity are scarce in the Old City.
“People have started to burn furniture, old clothes, plastic, anything they can burn to keep warm at night, because it is still raining heavily and the temperatures at night in particular drop significantly,” Geddo said, adding that more people could be expected to flee.
“The more you go without food, the more you become panicked and the more you want to run away. At the same time it (the outflow) is increasing because the security forces are advancing and therefore more people are in a position to run away where the risk is likely more mitigated.”
The battle for Mosul, Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq, is now in its sixth month with Iraq forces backed by a US-led coalition, air strikes and advisers now controlling the east side and more than half of the west.
Baghdadi and other IS leaders are believed to have left the city, but IS fighters are resisting with snipers hiding among the population, and using car bombs and suicide trucks to smash into Iraqi positions. US officials estimate around 2,000 fighters remain inside the city.
Iraqi Forces to Deploy New
Tactics in Mosul, Civilians Flee City
Angus MacSwan and Patrick Markey / Reuters
MOSUL / ERBIL, Iraq (March 24, 2017) — Iraqi forces are to deploy new tactics in a fresh push against Islamic State in Mosul, military officials said on Friday, after advances slowed in the campaign to drive the militants out of their last stronghold in the country.
Iraq’s military is assessing opening up another front and isolating Mosul’s Old City, where the militants have put up fierce resistance, a US deputy commanding general for the coalition said.
Families are streaming out of the northern Iraqi city in their thousands each day, headed for cold, crowded camps or to stay with relatives. Hunger and deadly fighting are making life unbearable inside.
The US-backed offensive to drive Islamic State out of Mosul, now in its sixth month, has recaptured most of the city. The entire eastern side and around half of the west is under Iraqi control.
But advances have stuttered in the last two weeks as fighting enters the narrow alleys of the Old City, home to the al-Nuri mosque where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate spanning large areas of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The militants have used car bombs, snipers and mortar fire to counter the offensive, firing from crowded residential areas and complicating the battle plan especially since troops entered the crowded Old City.
US Army Brigadier General John Richardson, a deputy commanding general in the coalition, said the solution could lie in a change of tactics.
“They (Iraqi forces) are looking at opening another front to force ISIS to fight on two directions and isolate the Old City, so when it is time to go into the old city, potentially they surrender,” he told Reuters.
Richardson said the Iraqi forces could move army units in from the north while other brigades build up positions around the Old City.
“That is going to force ISIS to fight on two fronts, and I don’t think they have that capability,” he said.
Richardson said it was hard to estimate the number of militants left in the city, but said the quality of fighter was declining as their ranks were depleted.
An Iraqi defense ministry spokesman, who also spoke of new tactics, said elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces made some advances against the militants on Friday.
“In the next few days we will surprise Daesh terrorists by targeting and eliminating them using new plans” Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told state TV, without elaborating.
Rasool said CTS forces had advanced in tough, building-to-building battles to recapture areas outside the Old City including al-Yabsat.
Islamic State fighters had been positioning car bombs, and forcing residents to move furniture onto the streets which the militants were booby-trapping to slow Iraqi advances, he said.
Reuters could not independently verify the new advances by the CTS.
No new advances were reported in the Old City, where elite Rapid Response forces, an interior ministry unit, and Federal Police are involved in the fighting. The Federal Police said they were clearing houses and securing areas that they had already entered.
Fighting in the eastern half of the city ended in January, but in a sign of the challenges still faced there, security forces killed one suicide bomber before he detonated his explosives. Police said the bomber had crossed the Tigris from the west.
Islamic State fighters have stationed themselves in homes belonging to Mosul residents to fire at Iraqi troops, often drawing air or artillery strikes that have killed civilians.
One police officer said the new tactics would also involve deploying additional sniper units against Islamic State sharpshooters. The officer asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of discussing military tactics.
The militants have launched a series of counter-attacks, sometimes pinning down Iraqi forces on the southern edges of the Old City. Cloud cover and rain in recent weeks have prevented effective air support, military officials say.
As the battle continues, more civilians are being killed or displaced.
Local officials and residents said on Thursday dozens of people were buried in collapsed buildings after an air raid against Islamic State triggered a massive explosion last week.
The US coalition said there was an investigation into those reports.
Outside the city on Friday, hundreds of displaced people trudged through mud clutching suitcases and bags.
One man said that Islamic State snipers were shooting at fleeing residents, and some had been killed in explosions.
Residents described grim living conditions inside the city, saying there was no running water or electricity and no food coming in.
Khaled Khalil, a 36-year-old carpenter whose shop was destroyed in fighting, clutched his three-year-old daughter.
“We’ve been on the move since yesterday. We’re very tired but now we’re safe. Anybody they (Islamic State) catch, they kill. If we have time, we run,” he said.
As many as 600,000 civilians remain in the western half of Mosul.
Reporting by Baghdad bureau, Angus MacSwan in Mosul, John Davison in Erbil; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Jon Boyle and Richard Lough.
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