Thousands of civilians have fled Mosul in the last week as the Iraqi military and Kurdish peshmerga attempt to retake the city from Islamic State control.
The UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called for the protection of civilians fleeing the city and of those who remain inside. However, there are fears that the estimated 4-8,000 IS fighters within Mosul will use civilians as human shields as they have done in previous battles.
The Iraqi government has relayed information to the civilians who remain in Mosul that they may be safest to stay within the city as the battle intensifies, as they expect the IS fighters to have boob-trapped the roads and placed snipers overlooking the routes in-and-out of the city.
The Reuters news agency reports that some civilians were prevented from fleeing the city by IS fighters, and instead directed towards buildings considered likely to be the targets of air strikes.
There are an estimated 1.5 million civilians still living in Mosul and the surrounding areas, despite hundreds of thousands fleeing as the area fell under Islamic State control in June 2014. Mosul is the economic capital of the Islamic State, with much of the groups funds coming from raids on the city’s banks and “taxation” of its residents.
The Iraqi military is advancing towards the city from Qayyarah air base in the south and Kurdish peshmerga forces are advancing from the north, with air support provided by the US and allies. Good progress has been made in the first two days of the battle in the countryside around the Mosul, but it is expected to slow as the fight moves to the urban streets of the city.
The UN is in the process of establishing new refugee camps in areas held by the Iraqi military and Kurds to the south, north and east of the city, to help the 20,000 or more Mosul residents expected to flee the city over the next few days.