Iraqi civilians flee Mosul as US piles pressure on Isil
Iraqi forces yesterday opened exit routes for hundreds of civilians to flee the Old City of Mosul as they battled to retake the quarter from Isil militants defending what was a hugely important stronghold of their self-declared caliphate.
US-trained urban warfare units were channelling their onslaught along two perpendicular streets that converge in the heart of the Old City, aiming to isolate the jihadist insurgents in four pockets.
The week-old battle in the Old City is turning into the deadliest of the eight-month campaign to take back the northern city, which fell to the militants in June 2014.
Reporters saw a young girl with facial injuries walking dazed and shocked across the frontline out of a heavily-populated district with a group of neighbours. All her family were killed when their house collapsed, they said.
The UN voiced alarm yesterday at the rising death toll among civilians in the fighting, saying as many as 12 were killed and hundreds injured last Friday.
"Fighting is very intense in the Old City and civilians are at extreme, almost unimaginable risk. There are reports that thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of people are being held as human shields by Isil," said Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq. "Hundreds of civilians, including children, are being shot."
Iraqi authorities are hoping to declare victory in the city on the Muslim holiday of Eid (which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan) during the next few days.
Helicopter gunships were assisting the ground thrust, firing at insurgent emplacements in the Old City.
The government advance was carving out escape corridors for civilians marooned behind Isil lines. There was a steady trickle of fleeing families yesterday, some with injured and malnourished children. "My baby only had bread and water for the past eight days," one mother said.
More than 100,000 civilians, of whom half are believed to be children, remain trapped in the crumbling old houses, with little food, water or medical treatment.
The campaign to clear the militants from the Old City alleyways means moving on foot house-to-house in locations too cramped for the use of armoured combat vehicles.