Islamic State (IS) forces took control of the Iraq city of Mosul in the summer of 2014 and now the long-awaited military offensive to regain the territory has begun. Operations to retake Mosul started on 17th October using a combination of Iraq security forces, Sunni Arab tribesmen, and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters – all assisted by a US-led coalition of warplanes and military advisers. The entire operation is expected to last months. There could be as many as 1.5 million civilians living in Mosul, which makes reducing the number of civilian casualties of paramount importance. However, there are reported to be between 3,000 and 5,000 IS fighters in Mosul. Intricate tunnels have been built under the city, allowing IS forces to navigate their way about relatively unharmed. According to the UN almost 6,000 people fled Mosul in the first three days of fighting. They predict that about 200,000 people will flee the city in upcoming weeks. Some estimates place the number currently displaced within Iraq as being over four million.
Despite an impressive offensive to defeat the last IS stronghold in Iraq, there is an absence of attention being paid to the civilians who continue to be caught in the crossfire. In one particularly disturbing case, it was alleged that three women and three children (one of whom was disabled) were shot dead whilst trailing behind after being forced by IS to march from one village to another. However, it is now apparent that not all civilian casualties are purely a consequence of IS attacks, and that attempts made by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to push IS out of Mosul are adding to the humanitarian disaster.
The world has become numb to the horrors of Iraq in the past two decades. However the very nature of the current operation relies on a pre-determined plan of action, and it is disturbing that more was not done to warn or relocate civilians before the attacks began. Surely more should now be being done to mitigate the numbers of civilian casualties. The various reports sent to UN human rights staff of the atrocities being committed by many of those involved begs the question as to how much the people of Mosul were considered when the plans to liberate the city were put in place.
Ellie Davies 1/11/2016