Iraqi forces pause Mosul push over
concern for civilian casualties
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[March 25, 2017]
By Patrick Markey
MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi government
forces paused in their push to recapture western Mosul from Islamic
State militants on Saturday because of the high rate of civilian
casualties, a security forces spokesman said.
Residents escaping the besieged area have told of Iraqi and U.S.-led
coalition air strikes demolishing buildings and killing numerous
The insurgents have also used civilians as human shields and opened fire
on them as they try to escape Islamic State-held neighborhoods, fleeing
The U.S.-backed offensive to drive Islamic State out of Mosul, now in
its sixth month, has recaptured most of the city. The entire eastern
side and about half of the west is under Iraqi control.
But advances have stuttered in the last two weeks as fighting enters the
narrow alleys of the Old City, home to the al-Nuri mosque where Islamic
State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate spanning large
areas of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
"The recent high death toll among civilians inside the Old City forced
us to halt operations to review our plans," a Federal Police spokesman
said on Saturday. "It's a time for weighing new offensive plans and
tactics. No combat operations are to go on."
Local officials and residents said on Thursday that dozens of people
were buried in collapsed buildings after an air raid against Islamic
State triggered a huge explosion last week. Bodies are still being
pulled from the ruins.
The coalition has said the reports are being investigated.
"We need to make sure that taking out Daesh (Islamic State) from the Old
City will not cost unwanted high casualties among civilians. We need
surgical accurate operations to target terrorists without causing
collateral damage among residents," the Federal Police spokesman said.
An army statement published in the al-Sabah state newspaper said that
future operations would be carried out by ground troops highly trained
for urban combat.
"Our heroic forces are committed to the rules of engagement which ensure
protection of civilians" the statement said.
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Displaced Iraqis flee their homes as Iraqi forces battle with
Islamic State militants, in western Mosul, Iraq March 25, 2017.
A U.S. deputy commanding general for the coalition told Reuters on
Friday that the solution could lie in a change of tactics. The Iraqi
military is assessing opening up another front and isolating the Old
City, where the militants have put up fierce resistance, U.S. Army
Brigadier General John Richardson said.
Fleeing residents have described grim living conditions inside the
city, saying there was no running water or electricity and no food
coming in. Aid agencies say as many as 600,000 civilians remain in
the western half of Mosul.
But families are streaming out of the northern city, Iraq's second
largest, in their thousands each day, headed for cold, crowded camps
or to stay with relatives. Hunger and fighting are making life
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights said that since the campaign
on western Mosul began on Feb. 19, unconfirmed reports said nearly
700 civilians had been killed by government and coalition air
strikes or Islamic State actions.
The militants have used car bombs, snipers and mortar fire to
counter the offensive. They have also stationed themselves in homes
belonging to Mosul residents to fire at Iraqi troops, often drawing
air or artillery strikes that have killed civilians.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Alaa Mohammad in Baghdad;
Writing by Angus MacSwan in Erbil; Editing by Julia Glover)
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