Caught in the Crossfire

Ivor Prickett

As so often in war, it is Iraq's civilians who are bearing the brunt of the pain and suffering and battle for Mosul is presenting the government with the biggest challenge yet in the fight again Islamic State.~~As the fight for Mosul enters its fifth month, thousands of civilians remain caught between Iraqi and coalition forces on one side and Islamic State (IS) fighters on the other. Over 800,000 people are still reportedly trapped in Mosul, according to estimates by the United Nations. Tens of thousands are sheltering in neighbourhoods declared liberated by Iraqi forces and many more remain in parts of the city under IS control. Humanitarian organisations continue to fear mass displacement and civilian casualties.

When fighting is taking place, the few small field hospitals run by Iraqi forces and foreign volunteer medics that operate just behind the front lines in Mosul see a steady flow of maimed and dead civilians. One of the casualties, a young man who arrived being carried by his older brother, had just been killed by an IS mortar that landed in the street near his home. Within the same hour, another 10 injured people arrived at the same clinic.~~Many families hid in their homes while battles raged on the streets around them while others moved to nearby neighbourhoods to wait until it was safe to return. Although Iraqi forces have liberated many neighbourhoods in eastern Mosul, civilians there remain without power and running water. Many are so close to frontline fighting that they are out of reach of groups distributing aid. ~~Other families have made the harrowing decision to flee their homes. In some cases they leave behind the bodies of loved ones who died as the fighting came to their area and had to be buried in front gardens. Islamic State militants don't allow people to leave and actively use them as human shields when Iraqi forces arrive. If people survive the battle they can decide whether they still want to leave. At the same time the liberating Iraqi forces have encouraged people stay put once they arrive.~~The majority of the more than 130,000 people who have fled Mosul since the military operation to retake it began in October 2016 are still living in temporary camps in Iraq's Kurdish region. Some say they are waiting for the security situation to improve, others are waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. Although well organised and supported by international organisations the camps are isolated and winter weather has made life there very difficult for people who have already endured two years of harsh rule under IS. ~~All men and boys of fighting age fleeing Mosul are checked for any links to IS by Iraqi and Kurdish security officials concerned that fighters may be fleeing the city under cover of civilians. The men and boys, some as young as 16, are separated from their families after crossing the front lines and are put through a stringent security clearance process. Some are held for several days before being allowed to reunite with their families.~~While other parts of the country were devoid of civilians when they were finally wrested from IS control, Mosul is different since so many people have been told to stay in the city. As a result, progress has been slow and civilian casualties, although lower than expected, are still mounting.

 

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