Mosul civilians turn homes into bunkers to escape battle for Iraqi city

Alex Crawford, Special Correspondent, in west Mosul

Trapped civilians in west Mosul have built bunkers in their homes to withstand the bombings and shootings as the final battle for the Iraqi city gets under way.

Those who are able have been fleeing, but hundreds of thousands of others remain pinned down - caught in the middle of advancing government forces and IS fighters battling to the death.

Amid streets where almost every home has been hit by bombs, families are somehow managing to survive without power or clean running water and with their food supplies fast running out.

We picked our way through the rubble to the constant sound of bombings and mortar shelling with Mohammed Abdul.

He and his family are the only ones still remaining in his street.

A white flag has been hung outside his front door in an effort to demonstrate his neutrality.

Inside, he has built his own bunker for his family.

A blast wall has been set up using bricks from nearby destroyed homes and positioned in front of a door leading to a downstairs room.

He has stacked sandbags up against the window to try to shield his family from the constant explosions. "We do everything here", he told Sky News. "Eat, sleep, everything."

The government forces are poised to push deep into the Old City but have been held back by poor weather, which means they can't get the full air support they need before ordering ground troops in.

Recapturing the Old City and particularly the al Nuri mosque from where the IS caliphate was announced nearly three years ago would be a huge symbolic victory against Islamic State.

"You take the Old City, you take Mosul," is how one general explained the significance to me.

But the difficulties were further highlighted when we were amongst a small group of reporters invited to see the frontline progress.

As the group was on a rooftop surveying the government forces pounding IS positions, we came under attack from jihadi snipers forcing the few journalists, our accompanying soldiers and their commander to hit the floor and crawl to safety.

The Iraqi forces' offensive to drive IS out of their last stronghold in the country is now in its sixth month.

The entire eastern side of Mosul and around half of the west is under government control.

But advances have slowed in the last two weeks as fighting enters the narrow alleys of the Old City.