Innocent people are being caught in the crossfire between terrorists and the US-led coalition, eye-witnesses have been telling RT’s Murad Gazdiev in recent weeks as he visited refugee camps and hospitals in Iraq. While it is a known common practice for jihadists to use civilians as human shields, it seemingly has not stopped the coalition from trying to regain control over the city by any means necessary.
“On the day that our house was hit, a dozen other homes were destroyed by airstrikes in our neighborhood. It is a deep injustice,” one local at the Rojava hospital in Erbil recalled.
Refugees in the Hazar refugee camp near Erbil, northern Iraq, confirmed that they had seen bombs falling on them indiscriminately.
“I saw it with my own eyes: The planes that were targeting Islamic State destroyed civilians’ houses and killed five people. The children were scared to death from hearing bombs exploding. They are traumatized,” a woman said.
Last week, the RT crew was at Hamam al-Alil refugee camp, located to the south of Mosul, where people shared the hardships and adversities they had endured until they finally managed to flee the besieged city.
“Our situation is really bad, no water, no food, we have nothing, even drinking or washing water we can’t get, even the flour… we can’t make bread,” a man said, adding that shelling or not, they would have still left their homes due to hunger.
“Our situation is miserable, we suffered from ISIS, they trapped us in our houses for five days. We stayed in our house for five days without food and water,” another former Mosul resident says.
But despite mounting witness accounts, the humanitarian fallout from Mosul siege remains widely underreported both in mainstream and social media, in stark contrast to the apparently similar military operation to liberate Aleppo carried out by Syrian government troops backed by the Russian air force.
RT has raised the issue with a range of journalists and human rights organizations, including the European Court of Human Rights, the International Press Institute, the National Union of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the Centre for Investigative Journalism, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and numerous others. However, only a handful of organizations have responded so far.
The head of Human Rights and Safety at the International Federation of Journalists, Ernest Sagaga, believes that coverage of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Mosul is hampered by residents’ lack of access to the “internet and social media to pass on information to the outside world about their plight.”
“It takes either civilians who escape from the city to tell their stories to the media or a few journalists to access areas liberated to report on the situation,” Sagaga told RT, adding that his organization is greatly concerned and closely monitoring the situation in Mosul.
The Society of Professional Journalists encouraged news organizations to “seek truth and report it,” but according to Jennifer Royer, “none of SPJ’s leaders at this time are really experts in international journalism or what is happening in Mosul” – thus the SPJ was not in a position to “comment on why international media is or isn’t covering one story in the same way it covered another.”
Reporters Without Borders said it was not part of their “mandate” to speculate on why international media seem to have less an interest in the Mosul crisis coverage compared to Aleppo.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov urged “journalists working in conflict zones and UN partners responsible for humanitarian issues to be more objective and more assertive in presenting what they see in the crisis areas.”
“Those who have seen pictures from Mosul cannot help feeling anxiety… More civilians have definitely fled from there than left Aleppo during its liberation,” Lavrov added.
The siege of Mosul began in October 2016 comprising Iraqi troops, backed by Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Shiite militias, and the US-led coalition. The eastern half of the main IS (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) stronghold outside Syria was recaptured in January. By that time, hundreds were killed and at least 180,000 people had fled their homes.
“It’s terrifying to think of the risks families are facing. They can be killed by booby traps and in the crossfire and could be used as human shields,” Lise Grande, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq said.
According to the UN, around 750,000 people were still trapped inside in the western half of the surrounded city as of January. Some 5,000 people have been fleeing the city on average every day since the siege intensified last month. Grande predicted in late February that the US-backed offensive in western Mosul could displace up to 400,000 civilians.
“Since the assault, first on east Mosul and then west Mosul began, we have seen just a remarkable change at Mosul, moving from tens of civilians reported killed every week or even every month, to hundreds reported killed every week now by coalition airstrikes,” said Chris Woods of the London-based Airwars monitoring group, alleging that the Western media is downplaying the crisis.