Mounting civilian casualties from fighting in eastern Mosul between Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Daesh are overwhelming the capacity of the government and international aid groups, the United Nations said yesterday.
Nearly 200 wounded civilians and military personnel were transferred to hospital last week, the highest level since the campaign to push the extremists out of their last major stronghold in Iraq began on 17 October, said Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq.
The proportion of civilians among the wounded also appears to be on the rise, reaching 20 per cent in the first month of the offensive, according to an Iraqi Department of Health official, who claimed that part of the increase is likely due to improved access to areas newly retaken from Daesh.
“Authorities are doing everything they can to help but there isn’t sufficient trauma capacity at the field level to deal with the numbers of people being wounded by sharp-shooters and snipers and in crossfire. Civilians are being targeted by ISIL,” she told Reuters, using an acronym for Daesh.
A 100,000-strong alliance of Iraqi forces, with air and ground support from a US-led coalition, have nearly surrounded Mosul but so far only breached the some of Daesh’s defences from the eastern side, establishing a tiny foothold inside the city.
Militants are dug in among more than a million civilians, moving around the city through tunnels, driving suicide car bombs into advancing troops and hitting them with sniper and mortar fire.
The Iraqi authorities do not release comprehensive casualty statistics, but the UN figures probably represent just a fraction of the total as they capture only the most severe cases that cannot be treated on site, and do not include fatalities.
“We are very worried that more and more civilians will be hurt and victimised as the campaign intensifies,” said Grande. “Civilians are not being caught in cross-fire, they are being targeted.”
Civilians killed in US airstrikes and by Iraqi militias
The UN’s warnings about Daesh also come after a slew of reports issued by international human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International accused the ISF, allied Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and Kurdish Peshmerga forces of “war crimes” against civilians.
MEMO has also documented war crimes, including the torture and killing of children, some of whom were beaten to death with hammers. Most recently, MEMO published video evidence showing an Iraqi child being crushed under an Iraqi tank as soldiers shout sectarian slurs.
Daesh has also released infographics tallying up the cost of the Mosul operation in its first month. According to the group’s Amaq agency, Daesh has killed around 2,700 ISF and Peshmerga fighters, conducting 124 suicide bombing attacks and destroying hundreds of armoured vehicles.
More importantly, however, is Daesh’s claim that about 340 civilians have been killed in Iraqi and US-led airstrikes in Mosul, with a further 1,190 wounded. Although these cannot be independently verified, it does link with other reports citing doctors in Mosul that indicates a high civilian toll resulting from the combat operations of the ISF and the US on one side, and Daesh on the other.