First Published: 2017-03-20

180,000 Iraqis displaced from west Mosul
Some 111,000 Iraqis have sought shelter in 17 nearby camps, reception centres while many others stay with relatives during assault on IS jihadists in Mosul.
Middle East Online

Aid agencies bracing for possible 300,000-320,000 fleeing civilians in coming weeks

MOSUL - Iraqi forces battled Islamic State group fighters on Monday to push into Mosul's Old City where thousands of civilians remain trapped under jihadist rule.

The city's historic centre is home to the Al-Nuri mosque, where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in July 2014 proclaimed an IS "caliphate" in jihadist-controlled territory in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

The forces have recaptured several neighbourhoods from IS since starting the push for west Mosul last month, but the battle for the Old City, with its warrens of alleyways, was always expected to be tough.

Located on the west bank of the River Tigris which divides the city, the densely populated old centre is difficult for armoured vehicles to navigate and any use of heavy weapons there risks putting civilian lives in danger.

Iraqi forces on Monday aimed to press forward to enter the Old City from the Iron Bridge in an area rocked by heavy fighting the previous day, the commander of the Rapid Response Division's 2nd Brigade said.

"The offensive has resumed in the same area as yesterday... which is made up of large buildings, markets and narrow streets where the enemy is hiding," Brigadier General Mahdi Abbas Abdullah said.

Several buildings have been retaken from the jihadists on the edge of the Old City in the past few days, Iraqi authorities have said.

But the fighting for IS's last major urban stronghold in Iraq puts civilians who remain in the Old City in "terrible danger", an aid coordinator for the United Nations has warned.

"People fleeing are telling us that it's very difficult to enter or leave the Old City," the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said in a statement on Sunday.

"Families are at risk of being shot if they leave and they are at risk if they stay," she said.

- 'Tens of thousands fleeing' -

"It's horrible. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped and they are in terrible danger."

Iraqi authorities launched the offensive to retake the city on October 17 last year, with the support of the US-led coalition that has been carrying out strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria since 2014.

Recapturing Iraq's second city would be a major blow to IS following months of jihadist losses in both countries.

Iraqi forces launched the drive to retake west Mosul on February 19, after seizing the city's eastern side the previous month.

More than 180,000 people have fled west Mosul, the Iraqi government said Monday.

About 111,000 have sought shelter in 17 nearby camps and reception centres while many others have stayed with relatives, the ministry of displacement and migration said.

The Iraqi government says it can accommodate a further 100,000 displaced people in camps, but the United Nations says the numbers could rise way beyond that.

"Humanitarian agencies are bracing for the possibility that an additional 300,000-320,000 civilians may flee in coming weeks," the UN's aid coordination agency OCHA said.

Grande said aid groups had spent months preparing for the Mosul operation.

"But the truth is that the crisis is pushing all of us to our limits," she said.

The aid operation for western Mosul is "far larger and far more complex" than in the east, she said.

"The main difference is that tens of thousands of families stayed in their homes in the east," she said. "In the west, tens of thousands are fleeing."

"If the number of people leaving the city increases faster than we can construct new plots, the situation could deteriorate very quickly," she added.

Mosul had an estimated population of two million before IS overran it in a lightning June 2014 assault.

 

UN chief 'deeply alarmed' by Eastern Ghouta violence

US declares readiness to talk Mideast peace

IS kills 25 Iraqi militiamen near Kirkuk

Sudan frees dozens of activists detained after protests

Saudi Arabia to host first Arab Fashion Week

Blockaded Gaza Strip forced to pump sewage into sea

African migrants start hunger strike over Israel expulsion

Three militiamen killed in Libya car bomb attack

Russia denies Ďgroundlessí accusations of role in Ghouta killings

Turkey says whoever helps YPG is 'legitimate target'

Morocco dismantles IS-linked terrorist cell

Turkey urged to end gas standoff with Cyprus

PKK attack near Iraq kills 2 Turkish soldiers

Netanyahu confidant to testify against him

Iran emergency teams recover bodies from plane crash site

Ten dead in more Syrian regime strikes on East Ghouta

Bahrain activist sentenced to 5 years for Yemen tweets

Lebanese president makes landmark visit to Iraq

Bloodbath in Syria's eastern Ghouta

Abbas calls for peace conference in rare UN speech

Egyptian court adds leading government critic on terror list

Yemen government offensive threatens heritage site

Turkey considering chemical castration for child abusers

45 civilians killed in air strikes on rebel enclave

Cairo sheds Ottoman-era street names amid Egypt-Turkey crisis

New woes for Israeli PM in fresh graft cases

Maghreb countries wary about jihadists relocating from Iraq, Syria

Erdogan says Turkey will besiege Afrin "swiftly"

Turkey releases leading pro-Kurdish politician

5 Iranian police killed in Sufi protests

Iran finds wreckage of crashed plane on top of mountain

Israelís gas contract with Egypt: deal or no deal?

Somalia appoints new police, intelligence chiefs

Iran plane crash rescue search halted for second night

France reaffirms commitment to Iran nuclear deal

Turkey warns Syria against protecting Kurds

Abbas warms up to Moscow amid cold US-Palestinian ties

Israel strikes 'historic' gas contract with Egypt

Are Iranian satellite channels aiding regime change?

Israel pounds Gaza with air strikes after rocket attack

Iraq orders deportation of French jihadist

Pro-Assad militias to enter Syria's Afrin

Two hardline Syria rebels announce merger

Three Egyptian soldiers killed in Sinai

Israeli, US officials meet over gas row with Lebanon