ARBIL: More than 125,000 Iraqis have been displaced since the start in October of an offensive to retake Mosul from militants, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
“Following the intensification of military operations in Mosul city on Dec.29, 2016, the rate of displacement from Mosul has increased markedly, with over 9,000 people having fled the city in the space of four days,” said the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
OCHA also said about 14,000 of the 125,568 people confirmed to have been displaced in 11 weeks have already returned to their homes in recaptured areas.
After a lull in the offensive launched on Oct.17, 2016, to retake what is now the Daesh group’s last major stronghold in the country, Iraqi forces started a fresh push last week, engaging in heavy fighting in eastern Mosul.
A senior commander from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service that has done most of the front-line fighting inside the city told reporters on Sunday that Iraqi forces now controlled more than 60 per cent of Mosul’s eastern half. Reporters saw streams of civilians fleeing the fighting on foot in recent days, carrying what belongings they could bring along in bags.
Meanwhile, on the battlefront, Iraqi forces pressed gains against Daesh militants in eastern Mosul on Wednesday and have retaken two more districts, security sources said, with thousands more civilians fleeing the fighting.
An elite interior ministry unit had entered the Mithaq district and were clearing it on Wednesday, the sources said, while counterterrorism forces retook an industrial zone on Tuesday.
The militants are using the city terrain to their advantage, concealing car bombs in narrow alleys, posting snipers on tall buildings with civilians on lower floors, and making underground tunnels and surface-level passageways between buildings.
“We were very afraid,” said one Mithaq resident.
“A Daesh anti-aircraft weapon was positioned close to our house and was opening fire on helicopters.We could see a small number of Daesh fighters in the street carrying light and medium weapons.They were hit by planes.”
Turkey’s prime minister will this week pay a critical visit to Iraq, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, after tensions soared to unprecedented levels ahead of the operation to recapture Mosul.
“We are watching all actions aimed at starting a confessional conflict in Iraq,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara.
He said that Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and a delegation would be making a visit to Iraq starting on Friday.