New York, June 17: As many as 1,50,000 civilians are still trapped in Mosul's Old City as Islamic State terrorists keep them as human shields and shoot those people who try to flee. However, since October 2016, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have been battling IS militants in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. Therefore, the extremists now control only a handful of neighbourhoods in and around the Old City.
Lise Grande, the U.N. deputy special representative and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the United Nations expects the battle for the Old City to start "within days." She said that "conditions in the Old City are desperate," with very little food and no clean water, and the U.N. expects almost everyone to try to get out — "probably 120,000 to 150,000 civilians."
Already, 860,000 people have fled Mosul, which was "beyond the worst case" scenario of 750,000 that the U.N. had planned for, Grande said. But Lise said extensive planning and coordination with Iraq's military had allowed the humanitarian community "to stay just one little tiny step ahead" while it rushed to build new camps and find spaces in existing camps for families returning to already liberated eastern Mosul.
Grande also said that if more than 40,000 people flee at one time, no institution in the world can help, so the Iraqi military has made a real effort when they attack a neighborhood to keep the daily flight of people below the saturation point of 20,000."We're averaging between 8,000 and 15,000 a day," she added.
Grande further stressed, however, that Islamic State fighters are making it extremely difficult to leave the Old City by surrounding it with concrete walls shaped like upside-down T's, and placing snipers all along the walls who are shooting "anyone who's trying to escape."
There have been more than 7,000 gunshot wounds of people trying to leave districts still controlled by the Islamic State group, also known as ISIL, she said. Grande also stated, "The reason we know that they're being shot at by snipers and not crossfire is because they're being shot in the back."
This was discovered by one of the new innovations in the humanitarian operation in Mosul: "trauma stabilization units" that have been set up around IS-controlled areas to do "immediate triage of trauma victims" as soon as they cross into safety, which has helped save lives, she added.
She said another innovation, by the U.N. Population Fund, has been to deploy near the front lines specialized mobile teams to support fleeing women and girls who have been sexually abused. Typically, such units would be well back from conflict lines but having them close to the front has helped women and girls "who have experienced horrific conditions under ISIL occupation," Grande said in the end.
Interestingly, Iraqi security forces on June 4 of this year reclaimed the area of Al-Baaj district situated near Syrian border from the Islamic State. Iraqi forces backed by the US-led coalition have since October been battling to oust the group from Mosul. They are advancing on the last areas of the city still held by ISIS, but the presence of large numbers of civilians is slowing their progress.
Mosul fell to IS in 2014, along with large swathes of northern and western Iraq. The conflict in Mosul has so far displaced at least 191.000 civilians, and the United Nations has recently warned of mass displacements affecting nearly 250.000 out of 750.000 civilians as operations aim at the western region.
The US-led coalitions have killed over 1300 Islamic State (IS) militants in last one year. Meanwhile, Pentagon has approved arms sales worth $295 million to Iraq in order to boost its campaign against IS.
The US-led forces are fighting against IS militant groups in order to save Iraq from six to seven years. On the other side, Russian forces too are fighting against IS in Iraq, therefore, the terrorist group has lost its hold on many cities and thousands of its militants are killed. The US is fighting by air whereas Russians are battling on the ground.