The United Nations refugee agency reports more than 100,000 Iraqis may still be held hostage by Islamic State militants in western Mosul. The UNHCR warns conditions in the old city are worsening for the civilians trapped there.
The Iraqi military offensive to retake Mosul from Islamic State was launched on October 17. The battle got off to a good start as the militants were ousted rather quickly from their stronghold in the east. After claiming that part of the city, Iraqi forces embarked on a major push in February to recapture the more densely-populated western part, where the situation is more difficult.
The war there is being waged largely in the densely populated old city, which is a maze of narrow alleyways. Fighting is being conducted on foot and by going house to house.
The U.N. refugee agency representative in Iraq, Bruno Geddo, said the Iraqi military must take great care because the risks for the civilian population from both the fighting and IS are immense. He said the militants, whom he called ISIS, are using civilians in the old city as human shields.
“The civilian population is being taken, moved by fighters with them to be used as human shields," he said. "And ... ISIS snipers continue to aim at people trying to flee because there is this long-standing policy of executing people trying to leave the territory of the caliphate.”
Geddo said food, water, fuel and electricity are scarce as people become increasingly poor.
The UNHCR reports 667,000 people are displaced by the war. Most are living in camps, but many prefer to stay with family and friends or live in damaged and abandoned buildings outside Mosul.
Geddo said the UNHCR opened its 13th camp two weeks ago to accommodate the growing numbers of people fleeing Mosul. He said his agency has assisted more than one-half-million people, providing essential items such as blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets, buckets and flat containers for liquids known as jerry cans.