At least 400,000 Iraqis are trapped in west Mosul, controlled by the Islamic State (IS), United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Thursday. Many civilians are too afraid to leave the old town in west Mosul due to IS checkpoints and snipers on roof tops. But as fuel, electricity, and food are becoming scarce while shelling intensifies, panic is spreading amongst the people.
“The worst is yet to come, if I can put it this way. Because 400,000 people trapped in the Old City in that situation of panic and penury may inevitably lead to the cork popping somewhere, sometime, presenting us with a fresh outflow of large-scale proportions,” Bruno Geddo, UNHCR representative in Iraq said from a transit centre for people fleeing the city outside Mosul.
The centre, located south of Mosul, recieves 8-12,000 displaced civilians per day, Geddo said.
“We also heard stories of people running away under the cover of early morning fog, running away at night, or trying to run away at prayer time when the vigilance at ISIS checkpoints is lower,” he said.
The battle to take Mosul began in October and has been a long and arduous affair. According to security experts the operation will continue until at the least the summer due to both the high number of civilians in the city and the number of IS fighters in the group’s stronghold in Iraq.