Mosul civilians divided over Iraqi army advice to stay at home

The news service reports the immediate objective is to capture the villages near Mosul's airport, which rests on the southwest side of the city.

- February 19: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announces the launch of operations to retake the western side of Mosul.

"Our forces are beginning the liberation of the citizens from the terror of Daesh", Abadi added.

The battle for the western part is set to be prolonged and hard, due to more narrow streets in the old city which includes the mosque where IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi proclaimed a "caliphate" in 2014.

As of mid-day Sunday local time, the Iraqi army said that it had reclaimed five villages west of Mosul, and was closing in on its target: the Mosul airport, located along the southern edge of the city.

Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of the US-led coalition forces, said on Sunday: "Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world". Two fighters blew themselves up in eastern Mosul at the weekend, killing three soldiers and two civilians, and wounding a dozen people, security sources said.

A USA -led coalition has been providing close-air support throughout the campaign to retake Iraq's second-largest city.

'This is the grim choice for children in western Mosul right now: bombs, crossfire and hunger if they stay - or execution and snipers if they try to run, ' said the UN's Iraq director, Maurizio Crivallero. In the east, the Iraqi forces adopted a strategy ofprotecting civilians by keeping them at home, and the massexodus expected by humanitarian organisations did not occur.

Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, is roughly split in half by the Tigris River.

The operation began with hundreds of leaflets being dropped on the IS-held section of the city calling for Iraqi fighters to surrender.

According to estimates, between 750,000 and 800,000 civilians reside in the western section of Mosul. Away from the television cameras Iraqi soldiers often suspect civilians in Mosul of having been much more cooperative with Isis since 2014 than they now claim.

- November 3: IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi breaks a year-long silence to urge his fighters to defend Mosul to the death, and the advance of Iraqi forces begins to slow down.

But Isis have an advantage in the districts of western Mosul, where streets and alleys are too narrow for the Iraqi army to take tanks and humvees and booby traps - a key tactic of the jihadi group in other battles - are easier to hide.

  • Leroy Wright