Saturday, November 28th, 2020
  
 

‘They look terrible, you can see it in their eyes’

Iraqi forces, backed by US-led air support, battled Islamic State militants on the eastern outskirts of Mosul on Wednesday, November 2, as the operation to reclaim Iraq?s second largest city entered its third week. Airstrikes and artillery fire bombarded Mosul, which remains home to some 1.5 million people. Residents of the eastern neighborhood of al-Quds reported that Islamic State militants had resorted to street fighting in an attempt to hold off advancing Iraqi forces, according to Reuters. Iraqi newspaper Al-Mashriq reported that civilians in al-Quds fled toward the city center due to ongoing clashes and bombardment. Amaq News, which acts as a semi-official news agency for Islamic State, reported that four people were killed and 17 others injured, including women and children, in an airstrike on al-Quds neighborhood on Wednesday. Storyful could not independently verify these claims. This footage, released by Amaq, is described as showing the aftermath of airstrikes in the eastern district. Credit: Amaq News

Iraqi forces have entered the outskirts of Mosul for the first time in two years. Picture: Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP

HUMANITARIAN workers operating on the outskirts of Mosul fear a crisis looming as hundreds of thousands of men, women and children remain trapped in the city where a showdown with Islamic State is set to take place.

Care Australia’s Sam Bolitho, 30, from Melbourne said the organisation is “preparing for the worst” and expects one million people to need aid in the coming weeks as Iraqi and Peshmerga forces encircle the city in what is expected to be a final showdown against the Islamic State.

“There are currently about 17,000 people displaced so far — just a fraction of the 200,000 people who are expected to be displaced,” he told news.com.au

“It’s expected the bigger flows of people will start coming in this direction as the fighting continues to edge closer inside Mosul city itself.

“Of course, it’s impossible to predict how things will unfold. Our big fear is that people will get trapped within the city or between the fighting lines. In which case, it would be too dangerous for aid groups to get in.”

The Iraqi city has been under IS control for the last two years with men forced to wear beards and women to cover themselves under a reign of terror that has led many to keep children home from school.

It’s feared many families have remained in place rather than risk fleeing the fighting that could get them killed. This week, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issued a rallying cry to his fighters in the city via the group’s media network urging them to “start your actions”.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also warned 300 child soldiers known as “cubs of the caliphate” had been killed during the fighting.

Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, released a message this week urging his followers to keep fighting for Mosul. Picture: Militant video via AP.Source:AP

The city of one million is a last bastion of Islamic State control and is of crucial significance as it’s where the shadowy leader declared a caliphate in June 2014.

The last two weeks have seen Iraqi, Peshmerga and US-led forces advance on the outskirts in a slow and bloody battle beset by suicide bombers from the Islamic State side.

One project worker operating in the Zelikan refugee camp nearby who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals said families who have escaped report a “brutal” existence under IS control where they were forbidden from leaving home.

“Some of the people in the camp are traumatised, definitely. Especially the children. They are not the same. You can see some unnatural behaviours. You can see it in their eyes.”

“People arrived without any possessions, they weren’t allowed. They looked terrible when they arrived, many with long beards.”

Hundreds of thousands are also suffering from a lack of food, water and medicine, however the worker said many who left were simply happy to be alive.

“They say ‘thank god we came out of there and we don’t need anything more. Our safety is the most important thing. The situation here is good but it’s not perfect. People are trying to find their basic supplies, people need milk for their children and clothing.”

Last week, Save the Children’s regional director Alun McDonald said the crisis is expected to get “much bigger” in the coming weeks as people are able to leave.

“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.”

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Aid groups fear a humanitarian disaster as hundreds of thousands of families remain trapped inside the city, prevented from fleeing by booby traps and suicide bombs. Picture: Bulent Kilic / AFPSource:AFP