Friday 23 March 2018

Traumatised civilians slow Iraqi army's Mosul advance

People wait in Mosul for food donated by an Iraqi government organisation. Photo: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic.
People wait in Mosul for food donated by an Iraqi government organisation. Photo: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic.

Qassim Abudl-Zahra

Iraqi troops fortified their positions yesterday in areas of Mosul retaken from Isil as their advance towards the city centre was slowed by sniper fire, suicide bombings and concerns over civilians.

A few hundred civilians emerged from rubble-strewn areas yesterday. They included women and children, some of them carrying bags, small suitcases or waving white flags. Mosul is still home to more than a million people.

"The biggest hindrance to us is the civilians, whose presence is slowing us down," said Major General Sami al-Aridi of the special forces. "We are soldiers who are not trained to carry out humanitarian tasks."

The government sent six trucks loaded with food aid into the recently liberated areas. Chaos broke out in one area when residents climbed on top of the trucks and began helping themselves.

"It's hunger that makes people behave like this," said Mohammed Farouq, a 27-year-old resident. "Some families took many boxes, while others did not take any. This is unfair."

Mr Al-Aridi said his men were searching homes in areas retaken from Isil, looking for militants and vehicles rigged with explosives. Troops in those areas continue to be hit by mortar rounds, sniper fire and suicide bombers, he said.

In the newly liberated areas, roads are blocked by car wreckages and sandbags, while tanks are deployed on wider streets. Snipers on high buildings watch for suicide bombers or other intruders.

Brigadier General Haider Fadhil said four civilians were killed and another four wounded when a suicide car bomb exploded before it could reach the troops it was targeting late on Saturday.

The troops laid siege yesterday to the Al-Zohour area, about 8km from the city centre. The arrival of the troops at the area's fringes prompted hundreds of civilians to emerge from their homes waving white flags. The Iraqi military launched a campaign on October 17 to retake Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city and the extremist group's last major urban bastion in the country.

Most gains have been made by the special forces operating in the section of Mosul east of the Tigris river.

Other forces are advancing on the city from different directions and the US-led coalition is providing airstrikes and other support.

Human Rights Watch said in a report yesterday that Sunni militiamen fighting alongside the Iraqi military detained and beat 22 men from villages near Mosul and recruited 10 children from displaced camps in the area to join the fight against Isil.

Irish Independent

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