‘Worst yet to come’ in final push to free Mosul from Isis, says UN

Bethan McKernan
Displaced Iraqis from Mosul arrive at the Hamam al-Alil camp during the government forces ongoing offensive to retake the western parts of the city from Islamic State (IS) group fighters: Getty

“The worst is yet to come” as the fight to oust Isis from Mosul reaches its climax, the UN has warned, adding that around 400,000 people remain trapped in the city by sniper fire and landmines.

Civilians left stranded by fighting are running out of food, clean water, and electricity, Bruno Geddo, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Iraq, told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.

“People are trapped in the Old City in that situation of panic and penury may inevitably lead to the cork popping somewhere, sometime, presenting us with a fresh [refugee] outflow of large-scale proportions,“ he said. ”The worst is yet to come.”

“The more you go without food, the more you become panicked and the more you want to run away. At the same time it [the outflow] is increasing because the security forces are advancing and therefore more people are in a position to run away where the risk is likely more mitigated.”

“Everyone is hungry, there is no food and people are starving. We left last night when the army opened a way for us,” Waleed, a displaced civilian, told Reuters as he joined other mud-splattered families being loaded on to trucks bound for internally displaced people (IDPs) camps.

Around 157,000 people have braved Isis boobytraps, car bombs, snipers and artillery fire to reach IDP shelters in the last month, with a cumulative total of more than 200,000 people at one point or another displaced by the fighting since Operation Inherent Resolve began in October 2016.

On average between 8,000-12,000 people per day are now reaching displaced persons facilities, which Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq Lise Grande warned last week were reaching capacity.

While Isis - which overran the city in June 2014 - is now on the backfoot, it remains in control of about 40 per cent of west Mosul, and the last remaining 2,000 or so militants are fighting fiercely rather than abandoning their positions.

US-backed coalition troop operations were halted on Thursday due to adverse weather, while local Kurdish news outlet Rudaw reported that air strikes - likely conducted by US planes - had killed 230 civilians.

A spokesperson for Central Command, which coordinates US military action in Iraq, told The Independent they were aware of the reported loss of civilian life and the civilian casualty team was investigating the situation.

Defeat for Isis in Mosul will be a major blow for the group, effectively ending their incarnation as a land-hold force in the country, but the battle could still take weeks.

The jihadist fighters are expected to fall back to their de facto capital of Raqqa across the border in Syria, which is also the target of an US-backed operation designed to dovetail with the Mosul offensive.