Civilians face increasing risk of being caught in crossfire as forces move on Western Mosul

Civilians fleeing the fighting in western Mosul may face difficulty reaching safety and are under increasing threat of being caught in the crossfire, the Danish Refugee Council warned on Wednesday, after Iraqi forces began operations to retake the rest of the city on 19 February.

Iraqi forces began operations to retake control of western Mosul this week, one month after an announcement that the city’s eastern neighborhoods were fully under government control. Forces are now pushing through less populated areas towards the heart of western Mosul.

“DRC urges all parties to ensure, as much as possible, a safe passage out of Mosul for people who choose to leave the city, as well as the upholding of international humanitarian law and respect for human life,” said DRC Iraq Country Director Allen Jelich.

Although it is unclear exactly how many people are currently inside the densely populated neighborhoods, a drawn-out fight is expected. This puts the estimated hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still in the city at great risk of physical harm.

“At the moment, western Mosul is considered an active conflict zone and it is not possible to safely access vulnerable civilians in need of supplies,” Jelich added.

The cumulative number of Iraqis displaced from their homes by fighting since 17 October stands at over 217,000, of whom approximately 57,000 have since returned to their homes in newly retaken areas, while approximately 160,000 are still in displacement. One of several expected scenarios that may play out in the coming weeks is further mass displacement of civilians as the situation in western Mosul has reportedly deteriorated in recent months with scarce food and kerosene supplies, exorbitant prices, and severely limited service provisions. It is extremely difficult to estimate the timing and scale of displacement.

Currently, no clear pathway to safety exists for people seeking to flee western Mosul and limited contact with neighborhoods there has also severely restricted humanitarian actors’ ability to deliver critical life-saving assistance.

DRC is ready to contribute to the larger humanitarian response to address life-saving needs as they arise and provide immediate assistance in the form of critical relief items, access to clean drinking water, protection of civilians, and management of IDP camps in areas south of Mosul like Qayyarah and Tikrit, as well as north of Mosul in Zummar and close to Telafar.