Thousands flee Mosul amid heavy fighting

Baghdad, March 1 (IANS) Up to 26,000 civilians fled their homes from the western side of Mosul as fierce clashes continued to dislodge the Islamic State militants from their last major urban stronghold in Iraq, an official statement said on Wednesday.

The Iraqi Ministry of Migration is said to have received these civilians during the past ten days of the military operation in the western side of Mosul, said Jassim Mohammed al-Jaf, minister of displacement and migration, Xinhua reported.

The troops evacuated and transferred them to multiple camps in and near the towns of Qayyara and Hammam al-Alil and south of Mosul, where they received emergency supplies, including food and medicine, Jaf said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, announced the start of an offensive on February 19 to drive militants out of the western side of Mosul, locally known as the right bank of Tigris River, which bisects the city.

Late in January, Abadi declared the liberation of the eastern side of Mosul, or the left bank of Tigris, after more than 100 days of fighting against the IS militants.

United Nations estimated that about 750,000 to 800,000 people still live in the western side of Mosul, which could be a challenge to the Iraqi forces as the troops enter the city’s narrow streets in the densely populated neighbourhoods.

Mosul, 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when Iraqi government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq’s northern and western regions.