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Monday, February 6th, 2023

‘Trapped’: Mosul’s ticking bomb

A member of Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism forces stands guard in Bartella, as the group makes slow progress towards the crucial town of Mosul where another huge battle is set to unfold. Picture: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed.

UP TO one million people are trapped inside the Iraqi city of Mosul in a humanitarian crisis that could be unleashed within days, aid agencies say.

Save the Children’s Middle East regional manager Alun McDonald told only around 7000 people have left the city controlled by the Islamic State as Iraqi-led forces come within five kilometres in what is expected to be a brutal and bloody showdown.

That leaves up to one million trapped inside — half of them children — who are too afraid to leave their homes for fear of being killed while trying to escape.

Iraqi families who have been displaced by the ongoing operation to retake Mosul. Pic: AFPSource:AFP

“The crisis is expected to get much bigger in the coming weeks,” he said. “At the moment most people inside are pretty much trapped. Even if they choose to flee it’s pretty much impossible.”

“You have Islamic State snipers, landmines all over the place, booby trapped roads. It’s really, really dangerous to try and get out at the moment, people are trapped inside.”

“We expect once fighting gets closer to the city we’re going to see more people pouring out of city itself.”

Girls from a village just south of Mosul pose in the area rigged by booby traps and suicide bombers. Picture: AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYESource:AFP

Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism forces have come to within five km of the city but progress is slow due to IS suicide attacks. Picture: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed.Source:AP

In the last week around 30,000 troops made up of Kurdish Peshmerga forces, the Iraqi army, Sunni and Shia militia and the US led-coalition have launched a bloody battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State control.

Iraq’s second largest city has been run by the terror group for two years and there are now fears it is running out of basic food and medical supplies, as fighting reaches within kilometres of the suburbs.

The impending battle will be a crucial moment in the war against Islamic State. While progress has been made, it’s slow going for Iraqi and coalition forces who have been battling IS sleeper cells, suicide bombers, tunnels run by an estimated 3000-5000 militants in the area.

Iraqi forces fire artillery shells. Pic: AFPSource:AFP

The UN expects up to one million people could be forced out of their homes as the crisis intensifies.

“Lots of people are afraid to use phones or talk to outsiders without getting arrested or killed. Generally people are terrified of what’s going to come,” Mr McDonald said.

“In terms of significance of the conflict, it is enormous more because of the scale of it and the potential for such a massive humanitarian crisis. If the predictions are accurate we could be seeing hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the second biggest city in Iraq in a very short space of time.”

Iraqi forces wearing a gas mask to protect them from smoke billowing in the background after a sulphur factory was set ablaze. Picture: AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYESource:AFP

Last month only five of a group of 23 who tried to leave, survived. Meanwhile 12 civilians were killed in a suspected air strike hit a mosque.

On Monday, Kurdish forces surrounded another town, Bashiqa, located on a crucial supply route into Mosul. They were forced to proceed with caution due to the threat of suicide bombers in what is the second attempt to take the area after they were forced to abandon their position last time.

Islamic State fighters have taken to torching oil wells and other things in their path to turn the sky black and confuse air strikes and satellites from above.

South of the city, two people were killed by deadly inhalations when a sulphur plant was set ablaze. Another 600-800 people were affected by the toxic gas.

“Those who suffer the most are people with asthma, especially children and the elderly,” a medic in the area told AFP.

“We are doing what we can but the shortage of drugs at the hospital is getting worse.”

The Australian government has provided an additional $10 million for food, shelter and health for Mosul’s civilians.

The Department for Foreign Affairs said freeing the city will “liberate its people from the terrorist group’s brutality and result in Daesh’s [Islamic State’s] loss of its last major stronghold in Iraq.”

US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said on Sunday, October 23, Iraqi, Kurdish peshmerga and US forces are on schedule to retake the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, but are also concentrating on ?external threats? from the area, meaning heading off IS attack missions from Syria and Iraq targeting the United States and coalition countries. ?We are killing those who are hatching those plots; we are killing the leadership of ISIL,? Carter said during a Sunday stop with American and coalition forces at the Joint Operations Center in Erbil, Iraq.?Mosul will be recaptured?It will be a difficult fight,? he said. This video shows Carter?s Sunday press conference. He did not elaborate on the schedule for pushing Islamic State out of Mosul. Credit: YouTube/US Department of Defense