Mosul has been witnessing one of the bloodiest conflicts in its history. And the sad fact is that the death toll is unknown since the Daesh-controlled city is almost completely closed to the world. The humanitarian side of the battle has been neglected, yet the United Nations warned that more than 200,000 people might leave Mosul, resulting in a new catastrophic scene on the outskirts of the city. Both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Baghdad administration have failed to offer basic services to the refugees.
According to the rights group, as many as 700,000 people have left the city since the battle commenced. "As military operations against terrorists intensify and move closer to Mosul's ‘Old City' area, up to 200,000 more people could be displaced," the U.N. said on Thursday.
When Daesh captured Mosul back in 2014, the Iraqi government faced criticism for being unable to defend one of its largest cities. The oil-rich city fell to Daesh easily as Iraqi troops avoided clashes, fled their posts and abandoned their weapons. Today, several groups are cooperating on the ground primarily due to international pressure and the U.S. handling of military operations.
Interestingly, they had existed during Mosul's fall too, as the Iraqi army, unlike other regular armed forces, consisted of several armed groups with different ethnic and sectarian backgrounds, and it is known that these groups do not like each other.
The battle, however, will probably not end soon, and its costs, especially the humanitarian one, will increase. On average, some 4,000 civilians flee the city every day, and 176,000 people have been displaced since the Mosul offensive began, the U.N. said.
Meanwhile, thousands, trapped in the city, were suffering from food shortages and appealed for help as Daesh militants used them as human shields. The displacement, food shortages and civilian loss are all evidence of how difficult it can be to retake the city. The U.N. also reported in April that access to clean water was restricted in the city and in refugee camps.
"The numbers of people fleeing their homes in western Mosul are overwhelming," said Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande in a press release from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"The military battle in Mosul isn't over yet and even when it is, the emergency will continue for months… Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake," Grande added.
While Daesh has made it very difficult to live in the city, the threat posed by Shiite militias, especially the Hashd al-Shaabi, raises questions about the post-liberation era. Many rights groups, primarily the Human Rights Watch, have released reports documenting atrocities, torture, displacements and human rights violations.
A 2015 Amnesty International report said, "Shiite militias have been abducting and killing Sunni civilian men in Baghdad and around the country. These militias, often armed and backed by the government of Iraq, continue to operate with varying degrees of cooperation from government forces, ranging from tacit consent to coordinated, or even joint, operations."
Some Iraqi media outlets reported that the civilians flee from not only Daesh but also from Shiite militias that have committed several atrocities in previously liberated cities against civilians just for being Sunni. Unfortunate civilians stuck between Daesh and the Shiite militias have also been killed by bombardments and artillery shelling.
"Fleeing residents who spoke with the Human Rights Watch said that Daesh justified the attacks on civilians because many of them had refused the group's orders to join its retreat west to areas of Mosul that it still controlled where they feared they would be used as human shields," the HRW had reported at the end of 2016.
"Residents said Daesh members told them in person, by radio, and over mosque loudspeakers that those who stayed behind were ‘unbelievers' and therefore valid targets along with the Iraqi and coalition forces," it added.