MOSUL - Iraqi forces battled Islamic
State group fighters on Monday to push into
Mosul's Old City where thousands of
civilians remain trapped under jihadist
The city's historic centre is home to the
Al-Nuri mosque, where IS leader Abu Bakr
al-Baghdadi in July 2014 proclaimed an IS
"caliphate" in jihadist-controlled territory
in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
The forces have recaptured several
neighbourhoods from IS since starting the
push for west Mosul last month, but the
battle for the Old City, with its warrens of
alleyways, was always expected to be tough.
Located on the west bank of the River
Tigris which divides the city, the densely
populated old centre is difficult for
armoured vehicles to navigate and any use of
heavy weapons there risks putting civilian
lives in danger.
Iraqi forces on Monday aimed to press
forward to enter the Old City from the Iron
Bridge in an area rocked by heavy fighting
the previous day, the commander of the Rapid
Response Division's 2nd Brigade said.
"The offensive has resumed in the same
area as yesterday... which is made up of
large buildings, markets and narrow streets
where the enemy is hiding," Brigadier
General Mahdi Abbas Abdullah said.
Several buildings have been retaken from
the jihadists on the edge of the Old City in
the past few days, Iraqi authorities have
But the fighting for IS's last major
urban stronghold in Iraq puts civilians who
remain in the Old City in "terrible danger",
an aid coordinator for the United Nations
"People fleeing are telling us that it's
very difficult to enter or leave the Old
City," the UN's humanitarian coordinator in
Iraq, Lise Grande, said in a statement on
"Families are at risk of being shot if
they leave and they are at risk if they
stay," she said.
- 'Tens of thousands fleeing' -
"It's horrible. Hundreds of thousands of
civilians are trapped and they are in
Iraqi authorities launched the offensive
to retake the city on October 17 last year,
with the support of the US-led coalition
that has been carrying out strikes against
IS in Iraq and Syria since 2014.
Recapturing Iraq's second city would be a
major blow to IS following months of
jihadist losses in both countries.
Iraqi forces launched the drive to retake
west Mosul on February 19, after seizing the
city's eastern side the previous month.
More than 180,000 people have fled west
Mosul, the Iraqi government said Monday.
About 111,000 have sought shelter in 17
nearby camps and reception centres while
many others have stayed with relatives, the
ministry of displacement and migration said.
The Iraqi government says it can
accommodate a further 100,000 displaced
people in camps, but the United Nations says
the numbers could rise way beyond that.
"Humanitarian agencies are bracing for
the possibility that an additional
300,000-320,000 civilians may flee in coming
weeks," the UN's aid coordination agency
Grande said aid groups had spent months
preparing for the Mosul operation.
"But the truth is that the crisis is
pushing all of us to our limits," she said.
The aid operation for western Mosul is
"far larger and far more complex" than in
the east, she said.
"The main difference is that tens of
thousands of families stayed in their homes
in the east," she said. "In the west, tens
of thousands are fleeing."
"If the number of people leaving the city
increases faster than we can construct new
plots, the situation could deteriorate very
quickly," she added.
Mosul had an estimated population of two
million before IS overran it in a lightning
June 2014 assault.