IS cornered in Mosul as battle comes to an end0:45
The battle for Mosul is down to the last few streets as Iraq prepares victory celebrations over Islamic State.
IRAQI commanders say female Islamic State militants are firing on their forces and using kids as human shields as they battle for Mosul.
The militants’ use of human shields has repeatedly slowed Iraqi advances throughout the nearly nine-month offensive to retake the country’s second largest city, and the commanders’ frustration was on display as they watched surveillance footage from the front lines.
“The women are fighting with their children right beside them,” Lt. Gen. Sami al-Aridi said as he was briefed by an officer holding a tablet computer showing drone imagery. “It’s making us hesitant to use airstrikes, to advance.
If it weren’t for this we could be finished in just a few hours.” Another officer in the command post suggested using Iraqi artillery, which would not require approval from the U.S.-led coalition.
“They’re all Daesh, just kill them all,” the commander said, referring to the IS group by its Arabic acronym. “There are civilians there, but they are Daesh families,” said another officer.
Neither would agree to speak on the record, in line with military regulations.
“For a child, even if his father is a criminal, what has he done?” al-Aridi said. “At the same time, my men are still taking casualties. We had 14 wounded today already.” Women have also carried out suicide bombings against Iraqi forces. Three female suicide bombers hiding among fleeing civilians killed at least three soldiers over the past week.
Up to 20,000 civilians are trapped in the last Islamic State group-held areas in Mosul’s Old City.
More than eight months since the start of the operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, the jihadists have gone from fully controlling the city to holding a small pocket of territory on the west bank of the River Tigris.
But the fighting against the last IS holdouts is heavy, and civilians caught in the middle of the battle are in “extreme danger”, UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Lise Grande told AFP.
“Our estimate at this stage is that in the final pockets of the Old City, there could be as many as 15,000 civilians, possibly even as high as 20,000.
“The people that are still trapped inside of these pockets are in terrible conditions,” and facing shortages of food, she said.
“They’re in extreme danger from bombardment, from artillery crossfire. The (IS) fighters that are still there are still directly targeting civilians if they try and leave.”
The battle has taken a heavy toll on civilians, nearly 700,000 of whom are currently displaced as a result of the fighting, she said.
Iraqi forces have been closing in on the Old City in west Mosul for months, but the terrain combined with a large civilian population has made for an extremely difficult fight.
Around 1000 members of Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service have been killed and 6000 injured in Mosul alone as of late May.
IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes and other support have since regained much of the ground they lost.