Mosul civilians bear brunt of battle with ISIS

Sunday 11/06/2017
Between a rock and hard place. Displaced residents walk to a safer area following fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIS in western Mosul’s Zanjili district on June 7. (Reuters)

London- Civilians from the north­ern Iraq city of Mosul are facing many threats as Iraqi forces draw closer to recapturing the west­ern part of the city from the Islamic State (ISIS).

The UN human rights office said it believes ISIS has killed more than 230 civilians trying to flee the last stronghold of the militants in west­ern Mosul since May 26.

“Shooting children as they try to run to safety with their fami­lies — there are no words of con­demnation strong enough for such despicable acts,” UN High Commis­sioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement.

“The murder of civilians, as well as the intentional directing of an at­tack against civilians who are not directly taking part in hostilities, are war crimes,” it said.

ISIS militants are known for us­ing civilians as human shields as well as shooting those who try to escape.

There are an estimated 200,000 civilians — about half of them chil­dren — in Mosul’s Old City and sur­rounding areas. “Some (children) were reportedly killed as they des­perately tried to flee the fighting which is intensifying by the hour,” UNICEF said.

The UN rights office statement said it is investigating the death of as many as 80 civilians reportedly killed May 31 during an air strike by the US-led coalition against ISIS in Mosul’s Zanjili neighbourhood.

The UN statement called on the anti-ISIS coalition “to ensure that their operations comply fully with international humanitarian law and that all possible measures are taken to avoid the loss of civilian lives.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and other rights groups warned against us­ing large air-dropped bombs. “Iraqi and coalition forces should recog­nise that in the crowded Old City, using explosive weapons with wide area effects puts civilians at exces­sive risk,” HRW Middle East Deputy Director Lama Fakih said in a news release.

Iraqi authorities said they were investigating reports that their forces used white phosphorus in western Mosul. Residents in the city are also reportedly suffering from serious shortages of food and medicine.

Those who have fled ISIS-held areas, however, face other troubles.

“[At least 26] bodies of bound and blindfolded men are being found one after the other in and around Mosul and in the Tigris River, rais­ing serious concerns about extraju­dicial killings by government forc­es,” Fakih said in a statement. “The lack of any apparent government action to investigate these deaths undermines the government’s statements on protecting detainee rights.”

“If Iraqi authorities want civilians who spent over two years living un­der ISIS to feel safe and protected, they need to ensure that anyone re­sponsible for murdering prisoners is brought to justice,” Fakih said.

The Iraqi Shia militia of Imam Ali Brigades criticised the actions of one of its commanders after a video surfaced purportedly showing him burning the body of a suspected ISIS fighter.

It was not the first time that the commander, Ayyub Faleh Hassan al-Rubaie — whose nom de guerre is Abu Azrael (“Angel of Death”), has appeared in videos depicting grue­some acts but he apparently has not been punished by the government.

Rubaie dismissed reports that his militia had disowned him, saying that the Imam Ali Brigades con­demned his actions in the video but he still serves with them near Mosul.

Kurdish authorities in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, which will have a referendum on its independence on September 25, were dealing with controversy.

“New cases have emerged of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities detaining men and boys fleeing Mosul on suspicion of affiliation with the Islamic State,” said HRW. “Family members report­ed that after Kurdish authorities took their relatives into custody, the families had no contact with the de­tainees for as long as four months.”

Kurdish authorities denied the HRW allegations, insisting that only suspects are arrested and they are provided access to lawyers and their families are aware that they are detained.