Fight for Mosul Drags On While Displaced Numbers Grow

Speaking from Baghdad on Dec. 14, Kevin Hartigan, Catholic Relief Services’ regional director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe told America that his team was bracing for what may be unprecedented numbers of people in flight from the contested city. “The numbers still are not nearly as large as we expected because the battle for the city is looking to be a long and slow one, unfortunately for everybody.

“Mosul is a very big city and up to now what has been happening is people are moving between neighborhoods within the city, and that may be the pattern of the displacement we see,” Mr. Hartigan said.

“They have more possibility of finding shelter within the city without venturing into the desert around it.” That is a treacherous enterprise not only because of exposure to the elements but because of the possibility of becoming caught in the crossfire between ISIS and Iraqi defense forces or falling prey to ISIS militants. Scores of displaced people have also been killed by improvised explosive devices as they attempted to reach safety.

Displaced Iraqis are already arriving from other smaller cities, where the fight to extricate ISIS has been just as intense as in Mosul.

“We’re providing a lot of assistance to the people coming out of the town of Hawija,” Mr. Hartigan said. The strategically significant Hawija, once a city of more than 100,000, is an ISIS stronghold about 130 miles north of Baghdad and 34 miles southwest of Kirkuk.

“They’re arriving on foot and they’re really fleeing...active battles,” Mr. Hartigan said. Many have to “seize a moment to escape” as lulls in fighting occur. That means recently displaced people arrive at the camps with little more than the clothes on their backs. “They have remarkably few possessions with them, even by the standards of displaced people,” Mr. Hartigan said.

C.R.S., in conjunction with local partner Caritas Syria, has also been assisting scores of families among more than 85,000 who fled previous fighting in Fallujah to relative safety in central and northern Iraq.

The newcomers will be facing harsh winter conditions as they await the conclusion of the struggle against ISIS. North of the Nineveh Plain in Kurdistan, “it will be snowing and below freezing at night.” More temperate weather can be anticipated closer to Baghdad, but even there cold and wet weather is typical at night. Conditions in the camps can be “very unhealthy, particularly for small children.”

While many have hunkered down in temporary shelters in camps for displaced people, others have taken refuge in unfinished buildings that are often exposed to the elements. C.R.S. teams, in addition to providing kerosene space heaters, blankets and mattresses at the camps, have been assisting in winterizing these impromptu shelters, sealing openings and installing temporary windows and doors.

No one can say when or if people will be able to return to their communities after ISIS is driven out. The region’s infrastructure and communities have been pounded by months of street fighting, suicide car bombs, I.E.D.s and U.S. and coalition air strikes. Many communities have just been “demolished,” Mr. Hartigan reports.

“There is a question how safe these places are; a lot of them are still near conflict zones,” Mr. Hartigan said. Christian and Sunni families hoping to return to villages near the front lines have to contend with unexploded ordnance, booby traps and mines, according to Mr. Hartigan.

J Cosgrove
5 months ago
There is a lot in common of Mosul with Aleppo but some differences. In Mosul it is an mainly an entire city that is/was occupied by Islamist terrorists, in Aleppo, it was one section of the city that was occupied by Islamist terrorists. Each terrorist group held the people as hostages making their removal difficult without killing the non combatants. Both have resulted in large numbers of innocents being killed. There are three differences. Aleppo is now free but its liberators are called war criminals while in Mosul, the people are still prisoners and the liberators are noble. The third difference is that the occupiers of Aleppo (Al Qaeda) are called rebels while the occupiers of Mosul are extreme terrorists. Actually they are both equally bad. A lot of this has to do with Russia and Putin who are now considered evil in many circles. But only three months ago (after the so called hacking of the US election) Obama and Russian had a tentative agreement on how to proceed in Syria but the Americans reneged on the tentative agreement. And Putin is now a world class ogre in the eyes of many.

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A veteran activist provides a blueprint for creating a movement in the moment of Trump.
Nathan SchneiderMay 22, 2017
Given the number of those in the California legal system today who are Latino, “you can guess a large percentage of them are Catholic.”
Jim McDermottMay 22, 2017
Pope Francis waves during a visit to give an Easter blessing to homes in a public housing complex in Ostia, a Rome suburb on the Mediterranean Sea, May 19 (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano).
Vatican leaders seem quietly confident that the meeting will go well.
Gerard O'ConnellMay 22, 2017
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., prays on Nov. 16 during the opening of the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
The bishops' spring assembly will include discussions ranging from immigration to religious freedom, as well as the Synod of Bishops on youth.