Mosul civilians facing abuse from ISIS, Iraqi forces
London - Civilians in Mosul are facing increased threats from both Islamic State (ISIS) and Iraqi forces battling to retake the country’s second largest city from the militant extremists.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi ordered an investigation into violations of human rights and other abuses purportedly committed by government troops and paramilitary forces battling ISIS.
Abadi said the probe would examine “cases of kidnappings, mistreatment and violations” against civilians. Abadi blamed such incidents on “groups that exploit the good name” of Iraqi soldiers and Shia and Sunni paramilitaries.
The statement said that the abuses were posted on social media to “spoil the joy of victory and to defame the real image of the brave security forces and their sacrifices to liberate the land and to maintain security”.
Abadi’s statement came after the United Nations demanded a government investigation into a video purportedly showing brutal treatment and killing of at least three ISIS suspects in a newly taken area of eastern Mosul.
The nearly 3-minute video purportedly showed members of security forces in regular army and police uniforms dragging and beating the suspects before shooting them with at least two army Humvees, a tank and a personnel carrier stationed nearby.
Iraqi forces launched the massive operation in October to retake Mosul, which fell to ISIS in the summer of 2014. The United States is supporting them with air strikes and US soldiers are serving in a support role on the ground.
Air strikes targeting ISIS fighters in Mosul are killing civilians, although facts and casualty numbers are hard to verify, said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman with the UN human rights office. “We have been receiving quite a lot of reports of civilian casualties caused by air strikes,” she told a news briefing in Geneva.
The United Nations said it was working to prepare emergency aid for hundreds of thousands of endangered civilians in Mosul.
“We are racing against the clock to prepare for this,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande told Reuters. Humanitarian agencies were setting up displaced people in camps accessible from western Mosul and positioning supplies in them, she said.
“The reports from inside western Mosul are distressing,” she said in a separate statement. “Prices of basic food and supplies are soaring… Many families without income are eating only once a day. Others are being forced to burn furniture to stay warm.”
UN officials estimate 750,000 people remain in Mosul west of the Tigris River, which flows through the last remaining major urban centre in Iraq held by ISIS. Iraqi officials said government forces had taken complete control of eastern Mosul.
The west side could prove more complicated to take, however, as it is criss-crossed with streets too narrow for military vehicles, allowing ISIS militants to hide among civilians.
More than 100,000 Iraqi troops, members of regional Kurdish security forces and Shia and Sunni paramilitaries are participating in the offensive.
Iraqi forces estimated the number of militants inside Mosul at 5,000-6,000 at the start of operations three months ago and say 3,300 have been killed in the fighting since.
Military preparations to recapture western Mosul have begun, with Shia militias preparing an operation to pave the way for the main offensive on the western bank of the Tigris, the overall campaign commander, Lieutenant-General Abdul Ameer Yarallah, told Mosuliya TV.
More than 160,000 civilians have been displaced since the start of the offensive, UN officials said. Medical and humanitarian agencies estimate the number of dead and wounded — both civilian and military — at several thousand.
ISIS has “continued to attack those fleeing or attempting to flee areas that are controlled by it”, Shamdasani said, and was shelling districts retaken by the army.
ISIS expelled civilians from their homes along the Tigris on Mosul’s west bank, apparently bracing for a cross-river attack on their bastion by Iraqi forces, residents said.
“The group forced us to leave our homes… without allowing us to take our belongings,” a resident of Al-Maidan, a neighbourhood on the city’s west bank, told Agence France-Presse.
“It deployed gun positions and posted snipers on roofs and at windows,” the resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal by ISIS. “We were forced to leave the area because it will become a battlefield and so we moved in with relatives in other parts of the city.”