Civilian toll mounts as Mosul siege nears end
IRAQI forces expect to take all of western Mosul in Iraq in the next few days, thereby liberating the entire city from the grip of Islamic State militants.
However, the price for the liberation continues to be high for civilians with hundreds killed over the past few days and the UN warning that 100000 children remain in jeopardy as fighting between government forces and the militants continues.
“The battle to recapture Mosul is going smoothly and the city is to be liberated in days, said a spokesperson for the Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC) in Bagdad on Sunday.
“The victory in the liberation of Mosul will be symbolised by the retaking of the Grand Mosque of Al Nuri in western part of the city, said Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, the JOC spokesperson, in an interview with China Central Television.
At least 230 civilians were killed over the past two days by IS militants as well as Iraqi fighter jets in western Mosul.
Colonel Reda Abdullah Al Bahadli, of the Rapid Response forces, told Turkey’s Anadolu News Agency, that from late Saturday onwards at least 157 civilians, including women and children who were trying to escape the Al Zanjili neighbourhood, had been killed by the jihadists.
Another 43 civilians were killed as the Iraqi Air Force carried out air strikes on IS locations in Al Shifa district in north-east Mosul.
According to Bahadli, 30 civilians were also killed as Iraqi troops attacked IS pockets in the districts of Al Shifa, Al Zanjili, Al Borsa, Bab Sanjar and Bab Al Toub in western Mosul.
However, the Federal Police said Iraqi troops were now in control of 65% of Al Zanjili and had evacuated 130 families explaining that the slow advance was meant to spare civilian lives.
Following the liberation of Al Sihha Al Oula district on Friday, IS is now only in control of the two remaining districts of Al Shifa and Al Zanjili – and parts of the Old City.
Iraqi forces have been sweeping through north-western neighbourhoods of western Mosul over the past few weeks in preparation for an invasion of the strategic Old City where some of the diehard IS members are holed up.
The militants lost eastern Mosul in January following three-months of bloody battles. The military offensive to recapture the western part of the city was launched in February.
Meanwhile, the UN children’s fund (Unicef) warns that the lives of some 100000 children remaining in western Mosul are on the line as the fighting rages.
“We are receiving alarming reports of civilians including several children being killed in west Mosul,” said Peter Hawkins, Unicef ’s Representative in Iraq, noting that boys and girls are being killed, injured and used as human shields as the fighting intensifies by the hour.
Calling on all parties in west Mosul to keep children out of harm’s way at all times, Hawkins pleaded for attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure including hospitals, clinics, schools, homes and water systems to stop immediately.
In other disturbing developments, Iraqi forces have been accused of using the controversial, deadly war weapon white phosphorus in an attack on IS-held areas in western Mosul.
An explosion was captured on a Kurdish TV station which was live-streaming on Saturday when Iraqi forces made their move.
Stills from the blast showed it appeared to have the signature bright white plume of smoke which follows a white phosphorus attack, Human Rights Watch told Al Jazeera.
Additionally the corpses of men – suspected of being IS membersor sympathisers – and subsequently summarily executed by Iraqi special forces and militias continue to be found.
A member of the Iraqi military forces disembarks from a tank in Mosul’s al-Zanjili district in Iraq on Monday.