Poor weather again hindered the Iraqi forces (ISF). The Federal Police halted their operations for the day because air support was limited by rain. The Golden Division seized the Yabessat neighborhood in the southwest section of the Old City. The ISF have still only penetrated the perimeter of the district, and it looks like there will be many hard days of fighting before they’re done and move on to the rest of the Mosul.
The Iraqi forces proved that they were an unreliable and disingenuous when it came to casualties in the war against the Islamic State. The story began March 22, when Shaafaq News reported more than 100 people were trapped in several houses hit by an air strike in the Jadida neighborhood of west Mosul. As happens too many times, the Islamic State was using the area for fire positions, while keeping civilians as human shields, when aircraft struck. March 23 Rudaw said that up to 230 people had been killed in the incident. General Mohammed al-Jabouri said 108 bodies had been taken out of the rubble so far, Ninewa councilman Hossam al-Abbar was quoted as saying 120 had been discovered, while the Iraqi Civil Defense Forces had the figure at 136. The Defense Ministry’s War Media Cell responded by saying that stories of high civilian casualties came from the Islamic State who were manipulating images, and that the ISF were doing their best to protect the people of Mosul. It went on to say that the media had to stick to the truth in such matters, that there were people who wanted to harm the image of the armed forces, that social networks were distorting things and painting a false picture, and that people could be sued for defamation. The Iraqi government’s stance since 2014 is to not report on the dead and wounded, and to play down, deny or attack any reporting that it disagrees with. For instance, it went after the United Nations when it had a high casualty count in November 2016, accusing the group of exaggeration. The U.N. no longer provides comprehensive figures for the killed and injured in Iraq as a result. This was a similar situation. The Islamic State was not the source for the stories of the dead in this incident, and it wasn’t even known who conducted the air strike, and yet the ISF responded by denying the story, threatening legal action against journalists, and blaming the Islamic State. Most Iraqi reporters are beholden to the authorities, so this was a warning to them to not cover such stories again. This proved once again that the Iraqi government is not interested in anything that contradicts its victory narrative about the war, and an honest account of its costs will not be coming anytime soon.
Speaking of casualties, a security source told Shaafaq News that 3,864 civilians had been killed and 22,579 wounded in the fighting in west Mosul. Again, there is no way to confirm these numbers due to the dearth of coverage of the issue. The media did have 85 civilians killed on March 23 from IS mortar and gunfire in the city, and another 3 executed by the militants.
The United Nations provided more news on the humanitarian situation. Officially registered displaced (IDPs) in Ninewa increased by 111,990 in the last month from 161,730 on February 23 to 273,720 on March 23. The number of IDPs reaching the screening center in Hamam al-Alil south of Mosul has gone up to 8,000-12,000 per day, up from an average of 5,000 just a few days ago. That could quickly rise again as the U.N. is afraid that most of the people in the Old City may flee because of the fighting. If that happens there will be no accommodations for them as most of the U.N. and government run camps are at capacity. At the same time, 76,422 have returned since the start of the Mosul campaign in October, but many more have gone back that were not recorded. Many of those returns have been in the towns surrounding Mosul. People are going back to east Mosul as well, but some districts are considered unsafe due to IS mortar fire. In that half of the city there is still no running water, and aid groups are trucking in over 2 million liters of bottled water per day. The main water treatment plant for the east has not been repaired. The electricity grid is down as well, so a generator was sent to run the facility, but it has not been connected yet. In west Mosul conditions are much worse with chronic shortages of basic supplies and services, and highly inflated prices on what is available. The lack of basic necessities along with the fighting are the main reasons why so many people are leaving east Mosul at a far higher rate than was seen in the west.
Finally, the Christian Science Monitor noted that there is no political plan for Mosul after it is liberated. Nothing has been done to resolve grievances, deter revenge attacks or make basic compromises about who will run the city and province. There are groups to assist in this matter such as the United Nations and the United States Institute of Peace, which has worked on these matters in other parts of the country. This was actually done on purpose. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi decided that no agreements should be made before the Mosul campaign, because they could easily be broken by creating facts on the ground by any of the forces involved. That was probably the wisest decision then. There are already struggles going on for power, which will only intensify in the coming weeks and months. Those changing positions were another reason why any deals made beforehand probably would not have held.
Associated Press, “Aid group says medical assistance needed in Iraq’s Mosul,” 3/23/17
Baghdad Post, "Civilians dead, injured in multiple mortar attacks in Mosul," 3/23/17
- "ISIS fire kills child in central Mosul," 3/23/17
- "ISIS fires mortars at Mosul's left bank, no casualties - sources," 3/23/17
- "Three medical staffers killed in shelling on Mosul hospital," 3/23/17
Browne, Gareth, “Fighting Isis to the bitter, bloody end,” Spectator, 3/23/17
Buratha News, “War media cell threatens to take legal action against abusers of the armed forces,” 3/23/17
Ensor, Josie, “Coalition air strikes ‘kill more than 200 people’ in Mosul,” Telegraph, 3/23/17
International Organization for Migration, “Displacement Tracking Matrix Emergency Tracking Factsheet #21 – Mosul Operations From 17 October to 23 March,” 3/23/17
Al Jazeera, “Battle for Mosul: Sharp uptick in civilian deaths,” 3/23/17
MacSwan, Angus, “Child victims of Mosul battle fill emergency hospital,” Reuters, 3/23/17
Mostafa, Mohamed, “Iraqi command says IS fabricates reports of civilian casualties in Mosul,” Iraqi News, 3/23/17
- "Iraqi forces recapture Yabessat, another district in western Mosul," Iraqi News, 3/23/17
- "IS burn western Mosul women who refused to slaughter co-civilians," Iraqi News, 3/23/17
- "More than 200 citizens, medical workers killed in western Mosul bombardment," Iraqi News, 3/23/17
- “Official: 120 corpses under rubble in western Mosul district,” Iraqi News, 3/23/17
Al Mada, “Snipers surround Mosque of the Caliph in old Mosul,” 3/23/17
Nebehay, Stephanie and Markey, Patrick, “’Worst is yet to come’ with 400,000 trapped in west Mosul: U.N.,” Reuters, 3/23/17
Peterson, Scott, “After ISIS: For Iraqis, reconciliation in Mosul will be challenging, and vital,” Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/17
Rudaw, “At least 200 people killed in Mosul air strikes,” 3/23/17
- “Children suffer nightmare of war in Mosul as civilian casualties climb,” 3/23/17
Shafaaq News, "Residents: 78 civilians were killed most of them by Iraqi forces in Mosul," 3/23/17
- “Search for more than 100 civilian bodies under rubble of dozens of houses in Mosul,” 3/22/17
- “Source: 3864 civilians killed within a month of the battle of West Mosul,” 3/23/17
UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, “UNAMI Statement in Response to Criticism on Reporting Military Casualties,” 12/3/16
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Humanitarian Bulletin Iraq, February 2017,” 3/23/17