Thousands flee Iraq's Mosul overnight, as fighting rages on

Thousands flee Iraq's Mosul overnight, as fighting rages on

Thousands of civilians fled Mosul overnight as Iraqi forces advanced north of a sprawling military base near the city's airport today.

Iraq's special forces pushed into the Wadi Hajar district in western Mosul and retook the area from the Islamic State group today, according to Brig. General Yahya Rasool, spokesman of the Joint Military Operations.

Special forces Brig. Gen. Haider al-Obeidi said clearing operations were ongoing in the area and his forces were close to linking up with the militarized federal police forces who were pushing up along the western bank of the Tigris river.

Iraqi forces, including special operations forces and federal police units, launched an attack on the western part of Mosul nearly two weeks ago to dislodge IS. Since the offensive began, more than 28,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, according to the United Nations.

Nahla Ahmed, 50 fled Mosul late last night, walking more than five kilometers (three miles) from her home in the Shuhada neighborhood. "All the families were hiding behind a wall," she said, explaining how they escaped an IS-held part of the city. "We gave the children valium so they wouldn't cry and (the IS fighters) wouldn't catch us."

Ahmed, like most of the civilians who have escaped Mosul in the past week, fled through Mamun neighborhood. The district is partially controlled by Iraq's special forces.

Maj. Saif Ali, who is stationed in Mamun, said huge crowds of civilians began pouring into the area from neighboring districts just after midnight. Ali said civilians in western Mosul are becoming increasingly desperate as food and water supplies begin to run out.

"In total 7,000 people fled through this area last night," he said. "We were up all night trying to control the crowds." By late morning nearly all the families had been moved out of Mamun. The neighborhood was littered with discarded clothing and blankets piled up in empty lots and on street corners.

Iraqi forces deployed east of Mamun advanced into Wadi Hajar, a neighborhood north of the Ghazlani military base. The US-led coalition dropped more than 15 munitions in Mosul today, Ali said, saying they targeted car bombs, sniper positions and small IS mortar units.

Brig. General Wathaq al-Hamdani of Nineveh province's police force said IS targeted the Al Jazair District in western Mosul with "Katyusha launchers with missiles carrying chlorine gas" in at least two separate incidents over the past few days. He added that five civilians had been taken to a nearby hospital to be treated for asphyxiation.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement today that seven patients likely exposed to a toxic chemical agent were currently being treated at Rozhawa hospital, close to Mosul, where fighting is ongoing.

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