The United Nations believes that approximately 150,000 civilians are still being trapped by ISIS in Mosul’s Old City.
With the help of the USA, Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran, the Iraqi military began their assault on Mosul in October 2016. Since they have successfully captured significant portions of the city. However, Mosul’s Old City remains in ISIS’s hands. The UN’s humanitarian chief Lisa Grande expects the battle for the Old City to start “within days.”
The Civilians still trapped in Mosul’s Old City are being held in appalling conditions. “There is hardly any food, water, electricity, fuel,” claims Bruno Geddo, the UNHCR representative in Iraq. “These civilians are living in an increasingly worsening situation of penury and panic because they are surrounded by fighting.”
ISIS is also shooting civilians attempting to escape. There have been approximately 7,000 civilians attempting to escape who have become victims of ISIS’s sniper fire. “The reason we know that they’re being shot at by snipers and not crossfire is because they’re being shot in the back,” Grande said.
The Iraqi military has dropped leaflets encouraging civilians to find a way around ISIS’s blockade. However, this seems almost impossible. “I think the chance of us dying on our way out of the city is higher than the chance of us dying in our houses,” a resident told the Washington Post. “We are living in a state of horror and siege.”
The presence of civilians in Mosul makes it harder for the USA, Russia and the Iraqi military to pinpoint exactly where ISIS forces reside. According to Geddo, “these civilians are basically held as human shields.”
Meanwhile, “the problem with having air strikes in this part of the Old City is because it is so built-up and dense, it is very difficult to avoid civilian casualties – that battle for the Old City is going to be perhaps the most challenging and difficult fight for all those fights for Mosul,” said Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith.
Mosul is a domino that must fall in order for ISIS to be defeated. Mosul has a population of 2 million people, is Iraq’s largest Sunni city, and has been a large source of ISIS’s revenue. But losing ISIS wouldn’t just be an economic and strategic setback, it would also be a symbolic one. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared ISIS’s Caliphate in Mosul’s al-Nuri Mosque in 2014. ISIS’s promise of Islamic governance would be shattered if they lose Mosul, which they inevitably will.
However, with civilians still trapped within the Old City, the devastation is not over for Mosul.
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