More than a million civilians in Mosul were in grave danger and aid workers were “bracing for the worst”, a relief group said yesterday after Iraqi forces reached the jihadist-held city.
Gunfire echoed across the village of Gogjali on the edge of Mosul yesterday as elite Iraqi forces continued a push that had brought them to within a few hundred metres of the city’s eastern edge.
Just over two weeks into the offensive to retake Mosul – the last Iraqi city under Islamic State control – Iraq’s military said on Tuesday its forces had penetrated city limits by entering a southeastern neighbourhood.
But the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the most active relief groups operating in Iraq, warned that a long-feared humanitarian crisis was closer than ever.
“We are now bracing ourselves for the worst. The lives of 1.2million civilians are in grave danger and the future of all of Iraq is now in the balance,” NRC Iraq director Wolfgang Gressmann said.
“People in and around Mosul have lived for almost two-and-a-half years in a relentless, terrifying nightmare. We are now all responsible to put an end to it,” Gressmann said.
More than 20000 people have fled to government-held areas since the offensive was launched on October 17, said the International Organisation for Migration.
But, according to Save The Children, civilians inside Mosul – including 600000 children – are trapped behind IS lines, and the UN has said thousands are being held for possible use as human shields.
A government fighter carried a black IS flag, saying: “We removed it and planted the Iraqi flag.”
IS is outnumbered in the battle, with an estimated 4000 to 7000 jihadist fighters in Mosul. But the jihadists have put up stiff resistance with suicide bombers, mortars and small arms fire.