Thousands of Iraqis evacuated from ISIS-held Mosul
LONDON - Thousands of civilians have been evacuated from parts of Mosul recaptured by Iraqi forces from the Islamic State (ISIS) as the militant group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called on his followers not to retreat from the fight.
Iraqi troops entered Mosul for the first time in more than two years, taking control of Gogjali, al-Karama and al-Samah neighbourhoods but increased resistance from ISIS is expected in the days ahead.
“Holding your ground with honour is a thousand times easier than retreating in shame,” Baghdadi was quoted as saying in an audio message that could not be independently verified.
Baghdadi also urged his followers to attack Saudi Arabia and Turkey. “Turkey entered the zone of your operations, so attack it, destroy its security and sow horror within it. Put it on your list of battlefields,” he said.
US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, spokesman for the US-led coalition attacking ISIS, said Baghdadi appears to be “losing command and control” of his militants.
The United States, France and Britain are providing air cover for Iraqi forces. The US-led coalition has reportedly conducted 16,000 air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria in the past two years. Two-thirds of them struck targets in Iraq.
The commander of the Joint Military Operation Command, Lieutenant-General Talib Shaghati, said more than 5,000 civilians have been evacuated from Mosul as Iraqi forces inspect recaptured areas in the city.
More than 21,000 civilians have been displaced since military operations began October 17th, the International Organisation for Migration said. The United Nations warned that thousands of people were being used by ISIS as human shields.
ISIS militants are using booby traps, suicide bombers, explosives-laden vehicles and drones, said Iraqi officials, who are consolidating territorial gains before cautiously moving further inside Mosul.
Fleeing civilians expressed relief that they escaped from ISIS but they appeared in need of aid. “Some of the kids that arrive are barefoot, and they don’t have sufficient water and food,” Alvhild Stromme, a media adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council aid groups, was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies told Reuters that “people are starting to arrive now from the small towns around Mosul” with only the clothes they were wearing.
The Iraqi commander of the counterterrorism forces, General Abdul-Ghani al-Asadi, said a curfew had been imposed in Gogjali. “For the safety of the families, we ask them to stay inside their houses.”
The Shia militias that dominate the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) have succeeded in “cutting the [western] supply route of the enemy between Tal Afar and the Muhalabiya district, reaching to Mosul,” said the leader of the Badr Organisation, Hadi al-Amiri.
The PMF have not entered Mosul but Adama Dieng, the special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the prevention of genocide, said he was concerned over “the increasing risk” of sectarian violence or revenge attacks in the Mosul.
Amnesty International said the Tribal Mobilisation Forces, which are made up of Sunni Arab tribal fighters, have carried out revenge attacks in villages suspected of having links to ISIS.
“There is strong evidence that Sabawi tribal militia members have committed crimes under international law by torturing and otherwise ill-treating residents in Qata al-Sabaween in revenge for crimes committed by IS,” said Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Research Lynn Maalouf, using another acronym for the Islamic State.
“There is no doubt that IS fighters who are suspected of committing crimes must be held accountable in fair trials. But rounding up villagers and forcing them to endure public humiliation or other violations, including torture, is no way of securing justice, truth and reparation for victims of IS crimes.”