The Humanitarian Cost of the Mosul Offensive

The Mosul offensive is the biggest ground operation in Iraq since the 2003 U.S-led invasion. The second phase of the nearly twelve-week long campaign to drive ISIS out of its last major stronghold in Iraq began last Thursday. The Islamic State has been using Mosul’s urban landscape and its large civilian population of 1.5 million as a cover to maneuver and launch attacks undetected. Although vastly outnumbered by Elite Iraqi Troops in Mosul, ISIS militants still maintain full control of the territory west of the Tigris river.

On January 6, Elite Iraqi troops advanced against ISIS militants in Eastern Mosul in a U.S-backed operation-the operation is gaining momentum and has been successful in driving militants out of several additional areas east of the Tigris. Iraqi forces have retaken 40/60 of Mosul’s district so far but have not yet penetrated the western side of the city where approximately 700,000 civilians are trapped.

The civilian cost of conflict in Iraq has been increasing steadily with ISIS’ heavy use of civilians as human shields and suicide car bombings. The casualty and displacement rate in Iraq is staggering; since October 17, 2016 when the Mosul offensive to retake Iraq’s second-largest city from ISIS militants began, IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix has tracked 133,302 individuals (22,217 families) displaced from the fighting. The al-Qayara Airstrip—established as an emergency site by the IOM in cooperation with the Ministry of Displacement and Migration—is currently host to more than 13,000—2,295 families—internally displaced persons.

Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

According to IOM’s DTM data an increase of 15,942 individuals or 2,657 IDP families was recorded between December 29 and January 5. 88% of the currently displaced IDPs (115,968 individuals) are hosted in camps or emergency sites. In total, the IOM reports that 3.1 million Iraqis have been displaced. The World Food Program (WFP) states that 10 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, the WFP reports that 2.4 million Iraqis face food insecurity and that $250 million is needed to aid Iraqis. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) reports that civilian deaths have increased considerably in Iraqi in the 2016. In October alone, over 1000 civilians lost their lives in the crossfire of sectarian violence. An estimated 6878 civilians died in Iraq last year and 12,399 were wounded. Approximately 54,000 were killed since 2008.

Since ISIS took control of Mosul, the local economy was decimated. Poverty rates and unemployment levels have increased significantly. An October-dated U.N report stated that a plethora of other factors further exacerbated living conditions for civilians in Mosul:

“In July 2015 the Iraqi government was unable to continue transferring the salaries of government employees living in Daesh-occupied territories. The city’s poor families stopped receiving rations from the public distribution system they used to rely on for survival; hefty fees, penalties and taxes exacerbated the vulnerability of most city residents; prices of basic commodities inflated dramatically, especially after the Peshmerga closed the highways used to transport weapons and ammunition to Daesh fighters in September 2015.”

As conflict escalates the civilians of Mosul continue to face profound insecurity and life-threatening conditions. According to Mark Lattimer, the Executive Director of Minority Rights Group International (MRG), the waves of displacements from Mosul are adding tens of thousands of civilians to the four million internally displaced peoples already in the country, making the Iraqi displacement crisis unsustainable.

Iraqis pull a cart with their belongings in a street in Mosul’s al-Zahraa neighbourhood yesterday, as they flee with other civilians during an ongoing military operation against Islamic State group militants.
Iraqis pull a cart with their belongings in a street in Mosul’s al-Zahraa neighborhood, as they flee during an ongoing military operation against ISIS militants.

In the past five days alone, more than 13,000 civilians have been displaced. Nearly 130,000 out of the total 1.5 million Iraqis have been displaced from Mosul and its surrounding areas. The civilian cost of this conflict is astounding. The average daily displacement numbers have increased by almost 50 percent since the second phase of the Mosul operation started. According to the UN, some 1600 to 2300 are displaced daily.

As military operations against the Islamic State intensify, the humanitarian situation in Mosul seems dire. Food stockpiles are dwindling and the price of basic commodities is sky-rocketing. Camps and emergency sites to the south and the east are over-packed and under-funded. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in December 2016 that at least three more months would be necessary to completely expunge ISIS from Iraq. With ISIS militant embedded in the civilian population, liberating Western Mosul will prove harder. The fall of the Islamic State will put an end to the bloody and brutal chapter in the history of the contemporary Middle East. But its eradication has a hefty humanitarian cost.

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