The children of Mosul are bearing the brunt of the intensified fight between government forces and the Islamic State group in the Iraqi city’s western half, the United Nations has warned.
Iraqi forces are in their last push to drive IS militants from the remaining pockets of territory they still hold in the Old City where narrow streets and a dense civilian population are complicating the fight. Unicef’s representative in Iraq Peter Hawkins said the agency is receiving “alarming reports” of civilians being killed, including children, with some caught in the crossfire while trying to flee.
He did not give a specific number for killed children, but he estimated 100,000 girls and boys are still in the IS-held Old City neighbourhood and other areas, living under extremely dangerous conditions.
He called on the warring parties to “protect the children and keep them out of harm’s way at all times, in line with their obligations under humanitarian law”.
He added: “Children’s lives are on the line. Children are being killed, injured and used as human shields. Children are experiencing and witnessing terrible violence that no human being should ever witness. “In some cases, they have been forced to participate in the fighting and violence.”
Backed by the US-led international coalition, Iraq last October launched a wide-scale military offensive to recapture Mosul and the surrounding areas, with various Iraqi military, police and paramilitary forces taking part in the operation.
The city’s eastern half was declared liberated in January, and the push for the city’s western section, separated from the east by the Tigris River, began the following month. Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul fell to IS in the summer of 2014 as the militants swept over much of the country’s north and central areas.
Weeks later, the head of the Sunni extremist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced the formation of a self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque.