Iraqi forces close in on Mosul

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By Natalie Huet  with REUTERS, BBC, AFP
Iraqi forces close in on Mosul

Iraqi security forces are said to be only days away from retaking Mosul from the self-styled Islamic State group.

The army’s chief of staff told the BBC he hoped the militants would be defeated before the holy month of Ramadan starts on May 26.

The US-backed offensive to retake Iraq’s second largest city started in October. Since then, more than 600,000 civilians have fled the fighting. Up to 200,000 more civilians could join the exodus in the final stages of the battle, according to U.N. figures.

The ISIL militants are now besieged in Mosul’s northwestern corner, which includes the historic Old City centre, the medieval Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its famous leaning minaret where their black flag has been flying since June 2014.

Residents say the fighters are shooting civilians who try to escape and even locking them up in their homes.

“There is no water, no food. The bombardment is continuous,” 40-year-old Umm Abdul Rahman told Reuters. She said the militants were setting civilian cars and trucks on fire to create smokescreens.

In the areas already freed from ISIL, millions of water bottles have to be brought in each day. Since the militants overran the city in 2014, most water pipes have been destroyed. Now locals are doing what they can to fix them – and have even started digging their own wells.

The United Nations has just reopened a water sanitation plant it hopes will supply all of Mosul’s freed areas within three months.