Iraqi forces urge civilians to flee the old city of Mosul


 

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi forces on Friday dropped leaflets urging residents of the old city, controlled by the state, to “push” in Mosul to flee, raising concern among aid groups for the safety of civilians. The dropping of leaflets announced by an Iraqi military statement meant an attack to expel militants from their remaining enclave in the northern Iraqi city was imminent. “We are deeply concerned about any calls to leave western Mosul because it will mean that civilians, especially children, are in great danger of being trapped amidst the shooting,” Save the Children said in a statement. Civilians besieged in areas still under Da’ash control in Mosul face a dire situation in light of the scarcity of food, water, power cuts and limited medical services. The US-backed attack to restore Mosul, currently in its eighth month, took longer than planned because of the sheltering of civilian militants and their resistance to attacks with booby traps, car bombs, motorbikes, snipers and mortars. At the start of the attack, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi hoped that Mosul would be “liberated” by the end of 2016. The United Nations said last week that as many as 200,000 more people could flee Mosul as fighting approaches the Old City. Some 700,000 residents of Mosul, or one-third of the city’s population before the war, have so far fled to seek refuge in friends or relatives or in camps for the displaced. “Just a few minutes ago, Iraqi air force planes dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets on uninhabited areas in the center of Mosul’s right side urging citizens to exit through safe corridors towards security forces,” a statement from the military information cell said. Oxfam said the dropping of the leaflets indicated that the entry of Iraqi troops into the old city of Mosul was “imminent” and added in a statement that “this may include an official declaration from the army in the next few days.” The restoration of control of Mosul will mean the end of the Iraqi part of the state of the “Caliphate” announced by the extremist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi three years ago, which also includes parts of Syria. Iraqi military commanders have expressed their hope of taking control of the Grand Mosque of Nuri al-Baghdadi, which al-Baghdadi declared the caliphate, before the holy month of Ramadan, which starts on Saturday in Iraq. The insurgency is expected to continue in the impoverished desert region along the border with Syria, even if Iraqi forces completely control Mosul.

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