Thousands of civilians on Monday (February 28), many of them wounded, fled the clashes between the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and Islamic State (ISIS) militants in western Mosul, the jihadists’ last stronghold in the country.
“Most of the people who arrived are wounded by Daesh [ISIS]. We offer them necessary treatment in the nearby field clinic and those in critical condition were sent immediately to the hospital in Hammam al-Alil, while others are treated in the field clinic and return back here to the evacuation center. Displaced people have suffered a lot and we are in need of help from international and humanitarian organizations,” said Brigadier-General Salman Hashim Hussein, a Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) officer.
Hussein said the number of civilians fleeing the ongoing battle in western Mosul is expected to increase.
“The number of displaced people yesterday was 4,550. Today we have received 1,000 people so far and we expect the number to increase within the coming hours,” he added.
The government is encouraging residents to stay in their homes whenever possible, as they did in eastern Mosul where fewer people fled than expected.
However the United Nations expects up to 400,000 people may have to leave their homes during the new offensive amid food and fuel shortages in western Mosul.
Jihad Mahmoud Mohammed from Tal al-Rumman, southwest of Mosul, said his house was targeted by a mortar leaving his children wounded.
“A mortar fell on us when we walked into the opening court of my house causing a storm of dust and blaring my vision. When the dust settled, I saw my children were wounded. My neighbour was also wounded in the head and he was treated here,” Mohammed said.
Iraqi troops have already captured the southern and western accesses to western Mosul, dislodging the militants from the airport, a military base, a power station and one residential district, al-Maamoun, according to military statements.
The airport and military base are now being used as a strategic launchpad by Iraqi forces for the operation on the densely packed west of the city.
Iraqi forces are currently about three kilometers (2 miles) from the old city center and the main government buildings, the capture of which would effectively mean the fall of Mosul.
Several thousand militants, including many who traveled from Western countries to join up, are believed to be holed up in the city with practically nowhere to go, which could lead to a fierce standoff amid a remaining civilian population of 750,000.
They are facing a 100,000-strong force made up of Iraqi armed forces, regional Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Iranian-trained Shia Muslim paramilitary groups.
The militants have developed a network of passageways and tunnels to enable them to hide and fight among civilians, melt away after hit-and-run operations and track government troop movements, according to inhabitants.
ISIS militants had forcibly taken several dozen of civilians into Mosul in the early stage of the offensive from nearby regions to serve as human shields.
The new push in Mosul comes after government forces finished clearing ISIS from the east of the city last month, confining the insurgents to the western sector across the Tigris river.