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Thousands of civilians flee western Mosul

February 28, 2017

The UN humanitarian agency has warned that 250,000 more people may flee the Iraqi city of Mosul in the coming days. The Iraqi operation to retake the city from 'IS' militants is ongoing.

Irak Kampf um Mossul Flüchtlinge
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Al-Rubaye

The Iraqi ministry of displacement and migration said that at least 16,000 people have been displaced since the battle for west Mosul began nine days ago.

Roughly 8,000 people have fled from western Mosul and surrounding villages since Iraq launched a push to retake the west of the city from the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Tuesday.

OCHA said that aid agencies and the Iraqi government were expanding displacement sites in the government-controlled areas south of Mosul to accommodate refugees, who were "often exhausted and dehydrated."

Some 250,000 people could be expected to flee the fighting in the coming days, OCHA said.

An estimated 750,000 peoples are still trapped in the Western Mosul. OCHA warned that their situation was "desperate" because supply lines have been cut off. The city is experiencing shortages in essentials such as food, water, heating oil and medical supplies and many civilians have been caught in the crossfire between state troops and IS militants.

Karte Infografik Umkämpftes Mossul (Karte Infografik Irak, Mossul, Kämpfe, IS, Irakische Trupen, The embattled city of Mosul, Iraq, Military base, Nineveh ruins, inoperable bridges, war, krieg)

The battle in the city

Iraqi security forces said they were close to capturing the main government complex in western Mosul: "The provincial council and the governorate building are within the firing range of the Rapid Response forces," a military media officer said.

Since the beginning of the offensive in Western Mosul last week, Iraqi troops, with the support of a US-led coalition, have captured several strategically important points including the airport and a nearby military base in the south of the city. 

On Monday, state troops captured one of the five bridges in Mosul that connect the eastern and western parts of the city across the Tigris river. IS  bombed and damaged all the city's bridges but the Iraqi military may be able to bypass broken sections on the Al Shodada Bridge with ramps.

The narrow streets in much of western Mosul make it nearly impossible for Iraqi forces to use armored vehicles, meaning they are having to deploy ground troops, who are much more vulnerable to attack from IS fighters.

Irak Kämpfe in Mossul
Iraqi ground troops searched buildings for IS militants as they moved into Western MosulImage: Reuters/G. Tomasevic

Breaking the IS line

Outside of Mosul, troops were reported to be on their way to sever the road between western Mosul and Tal Afar, an IS stronghold roughly 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of the city. The aim is to break the IS supply line and prevent their retreat. Mosul is the last major city in the country still under IS control. 

The militant extremists overran the then second largest Iraqi city in June 2014. Back then, the city counted over two million residents, many of whom have since fled.  

In October 2016, Iraqi troops began the ground offensive on Mosul. It is the biggest military operation in Iraq since American troops left in 2011. Government troops first focused on the Eastern part of the city, where they declared victory in January after three months of intense fighting.

mb/jm (AP,  AFP, dpa, Reuters)