In reaction to Iraqi forces beginning their assault of the Old City of Mosul, Nora Love, International Rescue Committee’s Iraq acting country director, said:

“This will be a terrifying time for around 100,000 people still trapped in Mosul’s Old City and now at risk of getting caught up in the fierce street fighting to come. With its narrow and winding streets, Iraqi forces will be even more reliant on airstrikes despite the difficulty in identifying civilians sheltering in buildings and the increased risk of civilians being used as human shields by ISIS fighters. The IRC spoke previously with one mother from west Mosul who lost her entire family to an airstrike after her home was occupied by ISIS snipers.

“The buildings of the old town are particularly vulnerable to collapse even if they aren’t directly targeted, which could lead to even more civilian deaths than the hundreds killed so far in airstrikes across the rest of the city, including a strike that killed more than 100 people in March and another that killed more than 50 in May. 

“The use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in the densely populated area also increases the risk that civilians will be harmed or killed and that civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, and homes will be destroyed. Both coalition and Iraqi forces must do everything in their power to keep civilians safe during these final stages of the battle for Mosul.

“Civilians attempting to flee the fighting face significant risk of getting caught in the crossfire or being targeted by ISIS snipers for trying to escape. In the first few days of June it was reported that more than 200 civilians were killed by ISIS as they attempted to flee west Mosul.

“With many displacement camps around the city now full, a large number of those able to escape the Old City will join thousands of others in east Mosul, which is still struggling to recover from extensive damage to houses and infrastructure as well as to provide enough clean water for more than half a million people.

“It could still take many weeks for this final push to conclude, during which time civilians, even in retaken areas of west Mosul, will remain vulnerable to ISIS mortar or counter attacks. Also, those still trapped in the old town will likely face severe levels of hunger. One man who managed to escape west Mosul told the IRC this week that he survived by eating cardboard soaked in water, another woman from west Mosul previously told the IRC that she and her children survived off nothing more than bread and tomato paste for over four months. 

“Unfortunately, the retaking of the city will not mean an automatic end to the nightmare for the people of Mosul who have endured nearly three years of brutal ISIS rule. Both those that fled Mosul and those that remained in their homes must not be treated with distrust. IRC teams have seen first-hand the high levels of trauma among those who managed to escape the city and now need specialist support to help people recover from their ordeal. For those now living outside camps the need for cash is paramount so they can afford rent, food and other basics for their families.”

Since the battle for Mosul began 860,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. This week the International Rescue Committee distributed much needed cash to 1,500 people mostly from west Mosul now struggling in the east of the city. The IRC has also distributed blankets, soap, spare clothing and mattresses to over 32,000 people in displacement camps on the outskirts of Mosul. In Nargazilia camp the IRC is running a safe space for children to learn and recover from the trauma of what they’ve been through as well as space for women to ensure they are protected and supported. Our specialist teams are also working in Nargazilia and local communities to identify and help children separated from their families. In Hammam al Alil and Qayyarah to the south of Mosul, the IRC has also distributed cash to nearly 15,000 vulnerable people living outside camps.

For further information on the situation inside Mosul and the IRC’s response, visit here.