The oil wells ISIS lit earlier on Monday still burn, filling the sky with black smoke. Rudaw Photo
QAYARA, Iraq—The Iraqi army is waiting for Qayara Bridge to be repaired before making the final push into the town, while civilians continue to flee under threat of Islamic State snipers.
"We await other Iraqi forces to mend the bridge and whenever the coalition forces give us the green light, we can move our forces toward Qayara," an Iraqi military official in Makhmour told Rudaw English, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Qayara Bridge was damaged by coalition forces in order to prevent ISIS militants from using the route during Saturday’s successful offensive to retake an airbase located in the town from the militant group.
"Artillery units of the Iraqi army forces based in Makhmour shell ISIS in Qayara at night,” the military official explained. But, he added, “Our ground troops do not move forward."
"On the Baiji side, all villages around the Qayara air base have been liberated," he added.
The Iraqi army is closing in on Qayara on two fronts – south from Baiji and east from Makhmour.
Sherzard Zebari, a Kurdish officer in the Iraqi army, confirmed to Rudaw English that the offensive is on hold. “The Iraqi army launched the Qayara offensive from Baiji. The army has not been ordered to attack ISIS in Qayara from Makhmour and they await superiors to formulate plans," he said.
Coalition warplanes have also ceased their airstrikes on Qayara, Zebari stated, and the oil wells ISIS lit earlier on Monday still burn, filling the sky with black smoke.
Civilians continue to flee the city, “on foot and by vehicles,” Zebar added.
"Since yesterday, around 100 families have reached the Makhmour front and today alone 20 families have been able to arrive in Makhmour, among them a child, whose family was left behind," said Mahdi Mohammed Ismael, a Peshmerga official on the Makhmour front.
The families reach the Iraqi army who hand them over to the Peshmerga to be settled in Debaga camp, Ismael explained.
But the risk they face fleeing the city is high. “ISIS has designated two marksmen to target civilians fleeing Qayara," Ismael said.
Sabri Mahmoud, 45, and 10 members of her family took a 2 meter-long boat early Monday along with three other people from a small village in Qayara to cross the Tigris River and reach the safety of Debaga camp round 4pm.
Sabri Mahmoud and her children fled Qayara and are now safe in Debaga camp. Photo by the author.
“Daesh took their own families and escaped to the center of Qayara but they also left us snipers to prevent us from escaping,” said Mahmoud a mother of five. She added that “despite all the difficulties, women, children and elders alike risk their lives trying to cross the river.”
“We have seen a boat capsized in the river. It is not only the snipers. The whole journey is dangerous,” said Mahmoud.
The refugees who have made it across the river in small boats said they have paid the boat owner to help them.
Qayara is the site of a former Iraqi army air base that has been used by ISIS militants as a bomb-making center, according to military officials. The Iraqi army successfully retook the air base on Saturday.
The army says that retaking Qayara brings them closer to Mosul that has been under ISIS control for two years.