UN preparing for possible chemical attack in Mosul
The UN’s public health agency said on Thursday that it has trained 90 Iraqi medics in “mass casualty management,” with special focus on chemical attacks, as part of its preparations for Iraq’s operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group.
The extremist group, which has ruled Iraq’s second largest city for over two years, is believed to have crude chemical weapons capabilities, and Iraqi forces say they are prepared to encounter them on the battlefield.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday that of the 700,000 people expected to flee Mosul, some 200,000 would require emergency health services, including over 90,000 children needing vaccinations and 8,000 pregnant women.
The operation to retake Mosul began on October 17 and is expected to last weeks, if not months. The fighting has not yet reached the city itself, which is home to more than a million people.
Iraq’s special forces on Thursday said that they have completed their objectives east of Mosul and were waiting for other forces to advance from the south in order to further isolate the city before moving in. “The operation has not been stopped and is proceeding as planned,” Brig Gen Haider Fadhil said.
Iraqi forces have been battling IS militants around the town of Shura, some 40km south of Mosul, in recent days. Officials have said the offensive is proceeding according to plan and that some operations are ahead of schedule.
The Mosul offensive is the largest Iraqi military operation since the 2003 US-led invasion and involves over 25,000 Iraqi soldiers, Federal Police, Kurdish forces, Sunni tribal fighters and state-sanctioned Shiite militias.
Fighting units are approaching the city from the north, east and south, while the US-led coalition is carrying out airstrikes and providing ground support.
The International Organisation for Migration says around 9,000 people have fled so far, but aid groups are preparing to receive 200,000 displaced people in coming weeks and fear many more could flee before the operation is over.
The United Nations’ refugee agency is shipping tents, blankets and other aid from the UAE to northern Iraq to help those affected by the military campaign.
The shipment, which left Dubai’s International Humanitarian City on Thursday, is expected to reach those affected as soon as Friday.
10,000 Iraqis displaced in Mosul op
More than 10,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since October 17, when an offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group started, the United Nations said on Thursday.
That figure is just a fraction of the displacement that aid groups expect to see when Iraqi forces reach the city limits and some of the million-plus people thought to be inside attempt to flee.
“Over 10,500 people are currently displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance,” the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement.
800-900 ISIS fighters killed in Mosul offensive, says US general
A US general on Thursday said 800-900 Islamic State (IS) group fighters have been killed since the Iraqi-led operation to recapture Mosul from the jihadists began.
“Just in the operations over the last week-and-a-half associated with Mosul, we estimate they have probably killed 800-900 IS fighters,” General Joseph Votel, who heads the US military’s Central Command, said, speaking from an undisclosed location. Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters are pushing toward Mosul along several axes and have made relatively quick progress.
The offensive, which began 10 days ago, has so far been concentrated in towns and villages around Mosul, and resistance may get heavier as Iraqi forces break through IS defences and enter the city itself. Earlier US estimates had put the population of IS fighters in Mosul itself at 3,500 and 5,000. Up to another 2,000 were thought to be in the broader Mosul region.
Votel cautioned it was hard to provide precise numbers as IS fighters move around the city and blend with the local population.
IS has lost the ability to move in large convoys, making it more difficult to replace fighters if it loses them in significant numbers.