Mosul: No safe areas for civilians in a city 'being reduced to rubble'

Stuart Ramsay, Chief Correspondent in Mosul
Mosul: No safe areas for civilians in a city 'being reduced to rubble'

The speed of the Iraqi forces' advance into western Mosul constantly changes.

Sometimes it is fast, at the moment it has almost ground to a halt.

On the main road to one of the bridges that crosses the Tigris River to the liberated eastern Mosul there is a total lack of movement from the attacking forces.

They are pinned down.

Sniper fire rings out and bullets whizz overhead.

Soldiers say that everything is fine and that it is safe.

It isn't and I ignore them, taking cover behind an armoured vehicle that had apparently broken down.

It had not - it was destroyed by Islamic State fighters.

A mud berm 100 metres away marks the start of Islamic State controlled western Mosul.

The Iraqi forces have so far failed to winkle out sniper cells so they have had to continue to call in huge mortar, artillery and helicopter gunship strikes.

It is absolutely awesome that anyone can fight against this amount of firepower. But Islamic State fighters are doing just that.

For days I have watched as helicopters strafe buildings with their entire load of bullets and, as they pull away, the militants fire back hoping to bag a spectacular prize. It's quite remarkable.

Mortars are being used round the clock, particularly in bad weather when the choppers can't fly.

When specific targets are identified they call in the gunships.

Despite all of this, Islamic State still controls most of the city's west.

As each day passes this ancient city is being reduced to rubble.

In many conflicts I have covered, in many cities, there is usually a relatively safe area.

But here in western Mosul there are none.

Wherever you go there is fighting: the frontline is in front, to the left to the right and behind.

It is absolutely chaotic. It is at times overwhelming.

In the middle, as usual, are the civilians. How people have survived all of this long enough to escape is simply astounding.

In small groups they carry what they can and walk through the front lines into the hands of an army that, as a rule, they are scared of. Sectarian worries aside, the intensity of the fighting has left them with no choice.

Over the deafening sound of gunfire the medic in charge tells me that the children in particular are severely traumatised and need to be evacuated as soon as possible.

The operation to get them out is basic but so far it is coping with the numbers able to leave. But this is still very dangerous.

A short distance behind the pick-up point where they leave from is Islamic State-controlled west Mosul.

Plumes of smoke fill the skies about 700 metres away.

As mortar rounds are fired, people flinch and duck down.

Men, women and children. They are all terrified.

A short truck ride away from the front line conditions deteriorate.

On windswept open ground they are given food and they wait for buses to take them to the tented camps that will likely be their homes for a very long time.

This is heartbreaking stuff.

Little children trudge towards their future with their favourite possessions. Mums and dads try to keep their families together.

They can promise their children nothing any more. But they did get them out.

Maybe they gave them life - again.