De­spair in Mosul

Iraqi forces use ex­plo­sive weapons de­spite civil­ian ca­su­al­ties

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - SU­SAN­NAH GE­ORGE

MOSUL, Iraq — Iraqi forces say their re­cent ter­ri­to­rial gains against the Is­lamic State ex­trem­ist group in Mosul’s Old City have largely been pro­pelled by airstrikes, de­spite a spike in al­le­ga­tions of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and warn­ings from hu­man-rights groups of the dan­gers of us­ing large mu­ni­tions in the dense, highly-pop­u­lated area.

As strikes pum­meled the Old City on Sun­day, hun­dreds of civil­ians fled. Many were badly in­jured and had to be car­ried out over mounds of rub­ble by fam­ily mem­bers. Deeper in­side the dis­trict, nar­row al­ley­ways were lit­tered with bod­ies.

Spe­cial forces Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Tim­imi said that over the past three days his forces have car­ried out about 20 airstrikes a day on Is­lamic State­held ter­ri­tory — a por­tion of the Old City mea­sur­ing less than 400 acres.

“It’s be­cause we have a lot of en­emy forces here,” he said, con­ced­ing the num­ber of mu­ni­tions used was rel­a­tively high.

Through­out the fight against the Is­lamic State, the U.S.-led coali­tion has largely re­lied on airstrikes to en­able Iraqi ground forces to ad­vance. In pre­vi­ous bat­tles, civil­ians were evac­u­ated from front lines. But in Mosul, the Iraqi gov­ern­ment told the city’s es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion peo­ple to stay put to avoid dis­place­ment.

Iraqi forces have re­peat­edly re­quested airstrikes in Mosul, of­ten to kill teams of just two or three Is­lamic State fight­ers armed with light weapons.

Man­hal Mu­nir was shel­ter­ing in the base­ment of his home with his ex­tended fam­ily when Is­lamic State fight­ers took a po­si­tion on his roof. They were tar­geted by an airstrike Sun­day morn­ing. The house col­lapsed.

“I just pulled my youngest daugh­ter out with me,” Mu­nir said at a nearby medic sta­tion, the tod­dler on his lap. “My mother was stuck be­tween two large blocks of ce­ment. We tried to free her. Af­ter two hours she died.”

In the weeks lead­ing up to the oper­a­tion to retake the Old City, the United Na­tions and hu­man-rights groups warned the Iraqi gov­ern­ment against the use of ex­plo­sive weapons with wide ef­fects in the Old City area, where houses are tightly packed and the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion is dense.

“In the crowded Old City, us­ing ex­plo­sive weapons with wide area ef­fects puts civil­ians at ex­ces­sive risk,” Lama Fakih of Hu­man Rights Watch said in a state­ment.

The coali­tion did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest from The As­so­ci­ated Press as to what mu­ni­tions are be­ing used.

“The Coali­tion al­ways seeks to use weapons that are pro­por­tional to the tar­get to min­i­mize col­lat­eral dam­age,” the U.S-led coali­tion said in a writ­ten state­ment.

“Nearly all mu­ni­tions re­leased have been pre­ci­sion guided to en­sure we achieve the de­sired ef­fects,” the state­ment con­tin­ued. “The avoid­ance of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties is our high­est pri­or­ity.”

In a re­port Fri­day, Air­wars said they “presently es­ti­mate that be­tween 900 and 1,200 civil­ians were likely killed by Coali­tion air and ar­tillery strikes over the course of the eight month [Mosul] cam­paign.”

The group said the ter­ri­to­rial gains in Mosul come at a “ter­ri­ble cost.”

The U.N. es­ti­mates that tens of thou­sands of civil­ians are still trapped in­side the Old City.

Iraqi forces be­gan the oper­a­tion to retake the Old City — the Is­lamic State’s last stand in Iraq’s sec­ond-largest city — in mid-June af­ter eight months of gru­el­ing bat­tles across Mosul’s eastern half and around the city’s western edge.

The prime min­is­ter de­clared an end to the Is­lamic State’s so-called caliphate in late June and pledged vic­tory was “near” af­ter Iraqi forces re­took the land­mark al-Nuri Mosque in the Old City.

Iraq’s fed­eral po­lice de­clared a par­tial vic­tory Sun­day, an­nounc­ing they had com­pleted “the lib­er­a­tion of our sec­tor,” ac­cord­ing to spokesman Capt. Bas­sam Khadim.

The coun­try’s spe­cial forces are now about a quar­ter-mile from the Ti­gris River that roughly di­vides Mosul in half, ac­cord­ing to Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridi.

“For us, the airstrikes are bet­ter than ar­tillery be­cause they al­low us to tar­get the en­emy ac­cu­rately,” said spe­cial forces Brig. Gen. Haider Fad­hil. “They help us min­i­mize civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and ca­su­al­ties among our own forces.”

AP/FELIPE DANA

A civil­ian flees through a de­stroyed al­ley as Iraqi spe­cial forces con­tinue their ad­vance against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants Sun­day in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq.

AP/FELIPE DANA

Iraqi spe­cial forces sol­diers gather be­fore ad­vanc­ing against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, on Sun­day.

On the Web Cam­paign against the Is­lamic State nwadg.com/ is­lam­ic­state

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