West Mosul fighting pushes over 28,000 Iraqis to flee


MOSUL: Over 28,000 people have fled since the start of a drive to retake west Mosul, as Iraqi forces closed on Wednesday on a road linking the city with a Daesh-held town to the west.

West Mosul is the largest population centre still controlled by Daesh and its recapture would mark the effective end of the cross-border “caliphate” leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced from a mosque in the city more than two years ago.

Iraqi forces have yet to advance deep into west Mosul but fighting combined with privation and harsh Daesh is pushing a growing number of civilians to flee.

“The humanitarian impact has been significant. Since the new offensive began, 28,400 people have been displaced from west Mosul,” the United Nations office coordinating the Mosul humanitarian response said in a statement, citing International Organization for Migration figures.

“Since 25 February, approximately 4,000 people per day have been displaced,” it said.

The number who have fled is still only a fraction of the 750,000 people who are believed to have stayed on in west Mosul under IS rule but it is expected to rise sharply in the coming days and weeks.

Iraqi forces are fighting inside west Mosul, but have also moved through the surrounding desert to cut the area off from the IS-held town of Tal Afar to its west. On Wednesday, Staff Lieutenant General Qassem al-Maliki, the commander of the 9th Armoured Division, said his forces were ineffective control of the Mosul-Tal Afar road, which would help isolate the jihadists in west Mosul.

“We control the road by fire,” Maliki said, explaining that while his forces had not reached it, they can fire on targets on the route.

But their ability to do that will likely be reduced at night, and jihadists may still be able to use other routes to move in and out of the city.

A commander in the elite Counter-Terrorism Service told foreign media that IS put up tough resistance Wednesday in the Maamun Flats area of south-west Mosul, which he said is considered “important for the control of the surrounding neighbourhoods”.

“The resistance is violent and fierce because they´re defending this line and this line, in our opinion, is the main line for them,” Staff Lieutenant General Abdulghani al-Assadi said.