The U.N.’s top aid official said Wednesday that living conditions in west Mosul, where jihadists are hunkering down among 750,000 civilians ahead of an expected push by the Iraqi army, are deteriorating fast.
“We are extremely concerned about the rapid deterioration of the conditions in west Mosul,” U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Lise Grande told reporters.
“Families are in big trouble, half of the shops have been closed,” she said while visiting Hasansham, a displacement camp between Mosul and Erbil, the nearby capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Iraqi federal forces have almost completely encircled Mosul, whose east side they retook from ISIS last month.
Four months into a huge offensive to reconquer the jihadists’ last major stronghold in Iraq, they are now poised to launch an assault on the city’s west bank.
“We are preparing … to launch a big operation in order to liberate the rest of Mosul,” said Brig. Walid Khalifa, deputy commander of the Iraqi Army’s 9th Division.
On Tuesday afternoon, dozens of armored vehicle and troops could be seen moving around the city. Khalifa said the maneuvers began on Sunday.
Slightly smaller than the east side but densely populated, the west bank of the Tigris River, which divides the city into two, is thought to shelter around three quarters of a million people who have been living in siege-like conditions for weeks.
A smaller than expected number of people fled their homes when elite Iraqi forces punched into east Mosul three months ago but Grande said the aid community was planning for larger displacement from the west.
According to the U.N., nearly 200,000 people have been displaced since the October 17 start of the operation to retake Iraq’s second largest city.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that 46,000 of them have since returned to their homes.
“We expect as many as 250,000 civilians may leave western Mosul,” Grande said Wednesday during her visit to Hasansham camp.
She said there were currently 20 displacement camps and emergency sites around the city and added that the U.N. and its partners were “rushing to construct new sites south of Mosul.”
The U.N. has said that civilian casualty rates remain high in eastern Mosul as ISIS mortar attacks from the western side of the Tigris River are still able to reach neighborhoods in the city’s east.