Aid groups warn of chaos after Mosul civilians told to flee

Aid groups warn of chaos after Mosul civilians told to flee

May 28, 2017
An Iraqi child waits for food rations upon arriving in a safe area after leaving their homes west of Mosul. — AFP
An Iraqi child waits for food rations upon arriving in a safe area after leaving their homes west of Mosul. — AFP

BAGHDAD — Aid groups voiced concern for the safety of civilians following calls from Iraq’s government for residents of the Daesh (the so-called IS) group-held Old City neighborhood in Mosul to flee the area immediately.

Iraqi forces began the push to retake the neighborhood Saturday morning, moving in on the district from three directions, according to a statement from Nineveh operations command, the authority overseeing the Mosul fight.

The IS hold on Mosul has shrunk to just a handful of neighborhoods in and around the Old City district where narrow streets and a dense civilian population is expected to complicate the fight there. Iraqi planes dropped leaflets over the area Friday telling civilians to flee “immediately” to “safe passages” where they will be greeted by “guides, protectors and (transportation) to reach safe places,” according to a government statement.

However, it is unclear how the government intends to ensure safe passage for civilians as IS fighters have repeatedly targeted fleeing civilians with small arms and mortar fire.

The move to clear the Old City marks a shift in approach. Since the Mosul operation was launched in October Iraqi forces have encouraged civilians to remain in their homes to avoid massive displacement.

However, more than 730,000 people have fled the fight to date according to United Nations figures.

“As many as 200,000 additional people may try to leave in coming days,” the UN said Saturday in a statement following the call for Old City civilians to leave. Save the Children warned that fleeing civilians could be caught in the crossfire, leading to “deadly chaos” in a statement Friday.

Both Iraqi forces and IS fighters are obligated under international law to protect civilians, the UN statement added.

More than 100,000 civilians are estimated to still be inside IS-held Mosul neighborhoods.

Mosul’s eastern half was declared liberated in January and the push for the city’s west began the following month. While some Iraqi commanders said they hoped to retake the city before Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that began Friday night, grueling urban combat has repeatedly slowed the pace of operations. — AP


May 28, 2017
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