In west Mosul, the longer you search the more bodies you find
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Up to 100,000 civilians in west Mosul are suffering from lack of food, water and fuel as the Iraqi and US-led coalition forces try desperately to free the remaining two districts in the old city from ISIS militants, expected to involve what the UN described as "hand by hand, house to house" fighting.
In a news briefing in Geneva on Friday, the UN Refugee Agency's (UNHCR) representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo, stated that ISIS militants are holding an estimated 100,000 civilians effectively as human shields.
The civilians trapped in the last two districts of west Mosul, Old Mosul and Shifa, barely have any water, food, fuel or electricity left and are living in an increasing state of “penury and panic because they are surrounded by fighting on every side,” Geddo stated.
ISIS snipers are deliberately targeting civilians attempting to flee the city.
Geddo, who had spoken to several families fleeing the old district, said that many came under sniper fire as they tried to escape the city at night through the streets or by boat across the Tigris River to reach the safety of liberated east Mosul.
Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN's mission in Iraq, said that they are expecting the fight for Old Mosul to begin "within days." She warned that no agency in the world could cope with the situation if 40,000 people decide to flee at the same time. She said the number of people fleeing Mosul is currently between 10,000 and 15,000 on a daily basis.
Rudaw's cameras have captured absolute mayhem when civilians try to flee the ISIS held areas, some leaving their family members behind.
UNICEF, the UN’s children’s organization, estimated in early June that 100,000 children still remain in areas under ISIS control in western Mosul amid fighting that is “intensifying by the hour.”
Other residents reported running out of food and digging wells in their yards in search of water supplies.
As Iraqi forces are closing in on ISIS militants in the narrow streets of the old city, the civilian death toll is increasing at an alarming rate.
The UN reported earlier in June that in two weeks of fighting alone, 230 residents have been killed in west Mosul.
Since Iraqi forces or families are unable to reach their loved ones who have been killed, the stench of rotting bodies is heavy in the hot summer air.
The attempts of the Iraqi forces to eliminate ISIS are complicated not only by thousands of civilians being used as human shields in the densely populated areas, but also by the fact that this is urban warfare.
“Fighting will have to be done on foot, hand by hand, house to house, so… the risk for civilians and their property will be even higher," Geddo warned.
More than half a million people have been displaced from west Mosul since the campaign began to defeat the ISIS group there, following the liberation of the eastern half in January.
UNHCR is providing psychological support to help the displaced civilians. “People coming out of west Mosul are deeply traumatized,” Geddo said. “They have seen unspeakable things.”