Islamic State insurgents may well use tens of thousands of Mosul residents as human shields to help hold onto their last city stronghold in Iraq, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Iraq chief Thomas Weiss is warning.
That has been the insurgents’ pattern as Iraqi and Kurdish forces have closed in on Mosul in recent months, Weiss said on Tuesday.
“Tens of thousands of people may be forcibly expelled, they will be getting trapped between fighting lines under siege, they may be even held as human shields,” he said, noting that he expected a sharp rise in the number of people forced to flee as the fighting got closer to the city.
Speaking by phone from Baghdad, Weiss said that, even though chemical weapons’ attacks were seen as likely, the IOM had not managed to procure many gas masks yet.
“We also fear, and there has been some evidence that ISIL (Islamic State) might be using chemical weapons. Children, the elderly, disabled, will be particularly vulnerable.
“In the United Nations country team, we believe that the Mosul situation has the potential to be one of the worst-case scenarios, expected to be the largest and most complex humanitarian operation in the world in 2017.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross has also appealed to all sides in the battle to show their humanity.
Its director of operations in the Middle East, Robert Mardini, told the BBC that meant not targeting civilians, avoiding the use of heavy weapons in densely populated areas, and giving safe passage to those who want to leave.
“The world is watching,” Mr Mardini warned.
Offensive on target
Meanwhile the Iraqi offensive continues to make progress, with sources saying it has stormed the Christian town of Qaraqosh, 13 km south–east of Mosul.
Thousands of Christians fled the city when extremists seized it two years ago.
Some Iraqi Christians eager to return to Mosul if US-led allied military airstrike on ISIS is successful https://t.co/WQeUkKxlvX
— The Christian Post (@ChristianPost) October 18, 2016
Troops recaptured 10 villages on the first day of the operation, but had another 70 to go before reaching the city’s outskirts.
Progress is being impeded by car bombs and booby traps, as well as oil fires lit by Islamic State fighters.
— Koba Magey Vote (@KobaMageyVote) October 18, 2016
Islamic State said it had carried out 10 suicide attacks against pro–government forces advancing on Mosul, with Kurdish fighters confirming at least five of their soldiers were killed in one incident.
The Mosul offensive is expected to take weeks, if not months.
It’s believed the militants left in the city are digging tunnels, rigging bridges with explosives, laying booby–traps and recruiting children as spies.
US President Barack Obama has held a news conference at the White House where he acknowledged Mosul would be a difficult fight, with setbacks as well as advances.
However he said he is confident IS will be defeated in Mosul.
Obama said America’s focus would be on humanitarian aid for the million civilians still living in the city.
– with agencies