Civilians caught in crossfire in Mosul as fighting intensifies between ISIS and Iraqi forces

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Families who were displaced by the operation to retake Mosul. Photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP

ARA News

Duhok – Extremists of the Islamic State (ISIS) are deliberately targeting civilians who refuse to join them in Mosul city, in Iraq’s northwestern Nineveh Governorate, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Wednesday.

“Mosul civilians were increasingly being caught in the crossfire, with at least 19 killed and dozens wounded in the period from the third week of November into the first week of December,” the international watchdog said.

According to HRW, fatalities incurred from “ISIS mortar or sniper fire, car bombs, roadside bombings and direct attacks,” as well as in airstrikes by the Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition. “The findings were based on interviews with more than 50 residents who had fled eastern Mosul,” the group said.

ISIS militants reportedly told residents of Mosul that those who don’t support its self-proclaimed Caliphate are “apostates” and therefore valid targets beside the Iraqi and coalition forces.

“Targeting civilians or using them as human shields is a war crime,” HRW said.

“Civilians are being hit from all sides in Mosul,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW, adding that ISIS group’s “atrocities do not absolve Iraqi forces and the international coalition from doing their utmost to protect civilians.”

On October 17, the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga launched a major operation to liberate Mosul city and its surroundings. According to military sources, more than 2,200 ISIS militants have been killed in the operation so far. Informed sources inside Mosul told ARA News that the Iraqi forces currently control approximately 50% of Mosul city, beside tightening the siege on the ISIS-held downtown districts.

Haidar al-Khalidi, a journalist inside Mosul, told ARA News in an earlier interview that ISIS is impeding the army’s advance by using civilians as human shields. This tactic has “prevented the army from using its heavy weapons during the clashes.”

“ISIS is using residential buildings as bases for its attacks on the Iraqi forces. Many civilians are located in Mosul’s ISIS-held districts. [They’re] being used as human shields,” al-Khalidi reported.

According to Michael Stephens, the head of the Royal United Services Institute–Qatar, there are a few reasons, mostly tactical decisions taken early on in the campaign, which have led to too many civilians being present in areas of heavy fighting. This has severely limited the ability of the Iraqi forces to use artillery and call in air power.

“The Coalition, Baghdad, and the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] will also be very cautious with the campaign plan to take the more densely populated districts of Mosul, fearing an even greater outflow of refugees from the city,” Nicholas Heras, a Washington-based Middle East researcher at the Centre for a New American Security, told ARA News.

Reporting by: Lorin Silo | Source: ARA News & Agencies 

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