Mosul battle: Civilians ‘targeted by snipers’ as they flee Isis

Trauma centres overwhelmed by need thanks to spike in casualties as fight to retake Iraqi city enters second month

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The Independent Online

Isis has been targeting civilians who try to escape the heavy fighting in and around the Iraqi city of Mosul, leaving medical facilities struggling to cope with the number of people in need of trauma care.

Around 200 people - at least 40 of them civilians - have needed emergency care for gunshot wounds in the last week, UN OCHA, the UN’s humanitarian agency said, including women and children with life threatening and complex injuries from sniper fire. 

Existing trauma centres around Mosul are completely unequipped to deal with the rise in casualties, OCHA said in its latest weekly report on the humanitarian situation in the fight for Mosul, with partner agencies working around the clock to try and free up additional facilities. 

More than 69,000 people have fled the frontlines as the US-backed Iraqi coalition’s battle for control of the Isis-controlled city grinds on. 

But at least one million remain trapped as Isis struggles to retain Mosul, by far the largest city in its possession and its last remaining stronghold in Iraq since it took over the area in 2014. 

On Tuesday Iraqi troops moved to retake Zohour, another neighbourhood in the east of the city, but are facing stiff resistance from the jihadis, a senior army commander said. 

“We are cautiously advancing. There are too many civilians still living there,” Brigadier General Haider Fadel said.

The built-up city and the nature of urban warfare has slowed the coalition’s progress considerably.  Thousands of people are being forcibly moved as human shields at strategic locations, monitors report, and Isis has managed to rig streets and bridges with hundreds of bombs and landmines as well as launching mortar and rocket fire. 

Suicide bombers driving through areas they know well are another major hazard for advancing Iraqi troops: they can appear in a matter of seconds and wound or kill entire units.

The advance on Zohour came as a new study found there is a high risk that Isis will use chemical weapons on civilians and troops. 

Iraqi forces enter Mosul

IHS Markit, a London-based intelligence analyst firm, said Mosul served as a chemical weapons production centre for Isis, but most of the materials for making chlorine and mustard gas have been moved to the group’s defacto capital of Raqqa in Syria ahead of the fighting. 

Isis has used its crude weapons at least 52 times, IHS Markit said. 

Speaking to reporters from Baghdad, Iraq’s foreign minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said although progress has been slowed by Isis’ disregard for human life, more than 1,700 fighters had been killed and a third of Nineveh province recaptured since the offensive began on October 17.