Iraqi forces call on civilians to flee Mosul’s Islamic State held Old City
The leaflet drop, announced in an Iraqi military statement, is an indication that the offensive to dislodge the militants from their remaining enclave in the northern Iraqi city was imminent.world Updated: May 27, 2017 16:46 IST
The Iraqi air force on Friday dropped leaflets calling on the population in the Islamic State-held Old City centre of Mosul to flee, raising fears among humanitarian organisations for the safety of civilians.
The leaflet drop, announced in an Iraqi military statement, is an indication that the offensive to dislodge the militants from their remaining enclave in the northern Iraqi city was imminent.
“Save the Children is deeply concerned that any calls to leave west Mosul will mean that civilians, particularly children, are in significant danger of being caught in the crossfire,” the organisation said in a statement.
The civilian population trapped behind Islamic State lines is facing a harrowing situation with little food and water, no electricity and limited access to hospitals.
The U.S.-backed offensive on Mosul, now in its eighth month, has taken longer than planned as the militants are dug in among civilians, fighting back with booby traps, suicide cars and motor-bikes, snipers and mortar fire.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had initially hoped Mosul would be “liberated” by the end of 2016.
The United Nations last week said up to 200,000 more people could flee Mosul as fighting moves to the Old City.
About 700,000, nearly a third of the pre-war city’s population, have already fled, seeking refuge either with friends and relatives or in camps.
“Iraqi air force planes dropped a short while ago hundreds of thousands of leaflets on the non-liberated areas ... urging the citizens to exit through safe corridors,” an Iraqi military statement said.
Oxfam said the leaflets suggested that the Iraqi forces’ move on the Old City in Mosul “is imminent”. “This could involve an official announcement from the military in the coming days,” it said in a statement.
The fall of Mosul would mark the end of Iraqi half of the “caliphate” declared nearly three years ago by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which also covers parts of Syria.
Iraqi military commanders had expressed hope of taking control of the Old City’s Grand al-Nuri mosque, from which Baghdadi declared the caliphate, before the fasting month of Ramadan, which starts on Saturday in Iraq.
The insurgency is expected to continue in the sparsely populated desert region along the Syrian border even if Mosul is fully captured. Iranian-backed Shi’ite paramilitary forces are fighting Islamic State in that part of the country.