MOSUL: Iraqi forces advanced into two more southeastern districts of Mosul however the forces are facing resistance by Islamic State militants, who are using civilians as human shields, a military spokesperson said on Tuesday.
The United Nations said civilian casualties had streamed into nearby hospitals in the last two weeks as fighting between the Iraqi forces and the militants’ last major stronghold in Iraq has intensified.
Advances by elite forces in the city’s east and northeast have picked up pace since the turn of the year, and the US-backed forces have for the first time reached the Tigris river, which bisects the city.
But fighting in neighborhoods in the southeast however has been difficult and tougher. “The challenge is that they (IS) are hiding among civilian families, that’s why our advances are slow and very cautious,” Lieutenant-Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammedawi, a spokesperson for the rapid response units of Iraq’s federal police, told Reuters.
He said the rapid response units and Iraqi forces had battled their way into the Palestine and Sumer districts in the last day, but the IS militants were using civilians as cover and shooting at them to flee.
“The families, when they see Iraqi forces coming, flee from the areas controlled by Islamic State towards the Iraqi forces, holding up white flags, and the IS bombs them with mortars and Molotov cocktails, and also shoot at them.”
“Whenever they (IS) withdraw from a district, they shell it at random, and it’s heavy shelling,” he added.
The United Nations’ humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) said that nearly 700 people in the last week had been admitted into hospitals in cities in Kurdish-controlled areas outside Mosul, and more than 817 had required hospital treatment the week before that.
“Trauma casualties remain extremely high, particularly near frontline areas,” it said.
The US-backed operation to clear Mosul from militants began in October and has recaptured villages and towns surrounding the city, and most of Mosul’s eastern half.
New tactics and improved coordination have helped the Iraqi forces to advance faster since they launched a new phase of the operation more than 10 days ago.
The advances however did slow down in November and December as the IS put up fierce resistance and used the civilian population as cover, therefore making it difficult for Iraqi forces to target them.