Iraq opens new Tigris bridge escape route for people fleeing Mosul

The war between ISIS militants and Iraqi forces is taking a heavy toll on several hundred thousand civilians trapped inside the city, with severely malnourished babies reaching hospitals in government-held areas.

The Iraqi government force's advance toward Mosul came after the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on February 19 the start of an offensive to drive the extremist militants out of the western side of Mosul, locally known as the right bank of Tigris River which bisects the city.

Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, was captured by the ultra-hardline Sunni Muslim fighters in mid 2014.

The militants are now surrounded in the northwestern quarter including the historic Old City, using booby traps, sniper and mortar fire against the assailants. "Already, more than 493,000 people have left, leaving nearly everything behind", Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said in a news release issued by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"The battle in western Mosul is very different than in the east- it's much tougher".

The Islamic State (ISIS) radical group is seeking a possible alliance with al-Qaeda after suffering heavy losses, Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi said on Monday.


Aid shipments also resumed to the Hammam al-Alil camp, southwest of Mosul, the main arrival point for people fleeing the fighting.

Some 20,000 people have escaped from Mosul in the past four days, fewer than before due to the lack of transport, the UNHCR said in a report.

The UN estimates that as many as 500,000 people remain in ISIL-controlled districts in western Mosul, including 400,000 in the densely populated old city. "Families. tell us that they are being shot at as they are escaping".

IS had become an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq by 2004, but IS later broke off from the group and became its rival.

Allawi said the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the head of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are not communicating with each other directly but through intermediaries.

"It is unclear how exactly both groups may work together", Allawi said.


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