Iraqi civilians stranded north of Mosul grow desperate

Aid agencies say that tens of thousands of people "lack access to water, food, electricity and basic health services" in areas recaptured by the army in Mosul and surrounding towns and villages.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

More than 54,000 people have been displaced so far in the campaign and 700,000 people are thought to need shelter, food, water or medical support.

Hundreds of civilians who fled fighting near Daesh-controlled Mosul last week are stranded without basic humanitarian assistance, underlining the challenges of the largest military operation in Iraq in over a decade.

A major operation by the Iraqi Armed Forces, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Popular Mobilisation Forces backed by an international coalition was launched on October 17, after the Iraqi government decided to regain control and restore its writ in Mosul.


Kurdish peshmerga forces prepare an anti-tank missile targeting Daesh facilities in the town of Naweran near Mosul, Iraq. (Reuters)

Four weeks into a campaign, the city is almost surrounded. But the Daesh defences have been breached so far only to the east, where they have battled elite troops for control of up to a dozen districts.

Families have been living for up to six days in abandoned homes and a school building in the village of Baybukh, about 6 km (4 miles) from the frontline at Mosul's northern border.

The army is fighting within sight of city neighbourhoods, but advances have been slowed by the presence of civilians who officers say are being used by the militants as human shields.

More than 54,000 people have been displaced so far in the campaign and 700,000 people are thought to need shelter, food, water or medical support.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said that tens of thousands of people "lack access to water, food, electricity and basic health services" in areas recaptured by the army in Mosul and surrounding towns and villages.

No humanitarian assistance has reached Baybukh in the past week and the people there have been barred from moving to a government-run camp or a village further from the combat zone.

"There is no food - no breakfast, no lunch, no dinner," said one man. "People are sleeping on top of each other. Women and children inside and men out in the open."


Aid agencies expect thousands more Iraqis will flee clashes in the north as Iraqi forces work to dislodge Mosul from Daesh control. (Reuters)

The situation has become so desperate that army officers say they have begun distributing rations meant for their soldiers and buying extra supplies out of their own pockets.

But even that is not enough.

Major Emad al-Ani said if he manages to provide food for 10 people, another 10 are lined up right behind them.

"This is a tragedy and it could become a humanitarian disaster," he said.


Iraqis fleeing the violence in the northern city of Mosul arrive at the Kurdish checkpoint of Makhmur. (AFP)

As women looked on from the school building's balconies, men of all ages crowded around a Reuters team visiting the site on Sunday. The men talked over each other in desperate attempts to bring attention to their plight as the sound of mortars rung out from the nearby battlefield.

"We just want to get out of here," said one man. "We have been sleeping in the dirt for five days."

"We want the most basic rights. Just take us to a camp," said another.


Displaced Iraqis arrive in Qayyarah, south of Mosul, on Oct. 19. More than 54,000 people have been displaced so far in the Mosul campaign. (Reuters)

Major Ani said the men had been searched for weapons but had not undergone the screening process which the government has established to try to keep Daesh from posing as civilians and slipping through government lines.

Iraqi authorities are responsible for transporting people from mustering sites like the one in Baybukh to a location further away from the frontlines, where humanitarian aid can be more safely distributed, according to the United Nations.

A UN spokesman said that the Baybukh site's proximity to active conflict has complicated the delivery of initial assistance.

An Iraqi military spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

Source: 
Reuters