The first four months of the Iraqioffensive on Mosul were marked by relatively low displacementbut the civilians who remain in the city's west face moredangers than ever. In the east, the Iraqi forces adopted a strategy ofprotecting civilians by keeping them at home, and the massexodus expected by humanitarian organisations did not occur.
Since the Mosul offensive against the Islamic State groupwas launched in October, around 200,000 civilians areestimated to have fled their homes, and some 50,000 havealready returned, according to the United Nations. In the early stages of the offensive, the army droppedtens of thousands of leaflets into Mosul, some bearing safetyinstructions for residents, most of whom remained in the city.
This prevented both sides from resorting to heavierweapons, avoiding large-scale destruction, as was the case inthe battles of Fallujah and Ramadi. "We know that IS targets people who try to flee, causingmany casualties," Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a top commander of theelite Counter-Terrorism Service that did most of the fighting,told AFP.
"Of course it would be easier for us to bomb the jihadists with heavy weapons if the city was emptied of itsinhabitants, but as our main goal is to preserve the lives ofcivilians, we are convinced they will be better protected ifthey stay at home rather than try to flee," he said, stressingthis strategy had been a "success" in the east. It is a strategy that has been endorsed by some,including Hazem Ghanam, a 58-year-old resident who was in eastMosul during the battle.
"It's a good plan, it worked for us in the eastern side,"he said. Although he is worried about a brother and two nieces wholive in the west, Ghanam said it is better to stay put. "Even though God spared some, the people who tried toflee got hurt. It's better to stay home."
"I would tell the people (on the western side) if thereis heavy shelling they should hide at home in a safe place. And if they have a chance to get out, it's better to flee." It took Iraq's most seasoned forces- the CTS- morethan three months of heavy fighting to retake the left bank ofthe Tigris River that divides Mosul.