Iraqi forces halt Mosul operation over concern for civilian casualties – report
“The recent high death toll among civilians inside the Old City forced us to halt operations to review our plans. It's a time for weighing new offensive plans and tactics. No combat operations are to go on,” an Iraqi Federal Police spokesman said, as cited by Reuters.
“We need to make sure that taking out [Islamic State] from the Old City will not cost unwanted high casualties among civilians. We need surgical accurate operations to target terrorists without causing collateral damage among residents,” the agency cites the police spokesman further.
On Saturday, however, the joint command of the Iraqi Army said that battles in Mosul continue.
“We deny [reports] that military action have stopped and confirm that they continue. Security forces are currently involved in fighting in the Rajm al-Hadeed district,” its statement broadcast by independent Iraqi Alsumaria TV said, as quoted by RIA Novosti.
Earlier this week local officials spoke of dozens of people buried under rubble from buildings collapsed after an air raid against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) triggered a huge explosion. Reuters reports that bodies are still being pulled from under the debris, while the US-led coalition has said the reports are being investigated.
Over 130 people trying to take shelter from the fighting in Mosul have been buried under the rubble of a building hit by the coalition airstrike, witnesses said in a video released by AP.
The US-backed offensive to drive IS terrorists out of Mosul was launched little over 5 months ago, and the Iraqi army backed by the coalition airstrikes has been able to recapture most of the city.
The entire eastern side and about half of the west is under the government control now. But further operations in the city’s Western and most ancient part proved to be challenging due to narrow streets and closely-set buildings. There are still about 700,000 people trapped in the densely populated area, according to figures from the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The United Nations on Saturday expressed concern over the high number of civilian casualties in Mosul.
“We are stunned by this terrible loss of life,” Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement.
US Army Brigadier General John Richardson, the deputy commanding general for the coalition, told Reuters on Friday that a change in tactics may help liberate the remaining parts of the city from IS without risking civilian lives. According to the general, the Iraqi military is assessing opening up another front and isolating the Old City.
RT’s crew recently inspected the bombed-out streets of Mosul to assess the impact of US-led coalition airstrikes targeting IS. Stating that coalition air strikes are just as deadly for civilians as they are effective in killing jihadists, they report that luring warplanes to residential buildings so they will target the innocent has become a standard IS tactic in Mosul. “ISIS made us keep our door open, so they could get onto the roofs at any time. They even broke down the walls between houses so they could move around,” a local resident told RT.
“I don’t know why they were climbing onto our rooftops, whether it was to fight or to provoke airstrikes,” another witness said.