Hundreds of desperate Mosul residents have fled the bloody violence in their city as Iraqi special forces battle to drive out Islamic State fighters. And for some, even a hole in the ground in the desert is better than the endless fighting at home.
Scores of refugees from Mosul have made their way to the desert, the Middle East Eye website reported, where they dug holes in the sand covered with makeshift roofs of tarpaulin and fabric to shelter from the oncoming winter. One refugee compared these impromptu shelters to graves, the website said.
Video footage shows men, women and children living and sleeping inside the shallow holes as the wind blows sand across the barren landscape.
“We have nothing,” an elderly man said to the camera. “No clothes, no cover, no furniture.” He asked: “Where is everyone? Where is the United Nations? Where is the humanity?”
The operation to retake Mosul is expected to take weeks if not months. Moving from neighborhood to neighborhood in house-to-house battles through dense warrens of booby-trapped buildings is time-consuming and Iraq’s military has repeatedly opted for slower operations in an effort to minimize casualties.
More than 3,000 Iraqi troops took part in the assault under heavy US-led coalition air support, but the pace of the fight also slowed as Iraqi forces moved from fighting in more rural areas with few civilians to the tight, narrow streets of Mosul proper.
Mosul is the last major IS stronghold in Iraq, and expelling the militant group from the city would be a major blow to the survival of its self-styled “caliphate” that stretches into Syria.
Iraqi forces have made uneven progress in closing in on the city since the operation began on Oct. 17. Advances have been slower from the south, with government troops still some 20 miles (35 kilometers) away. Kurdish fighters and Iraqi army units are deployed to the north, while government-sanctioned Shiite militias are sweeping in from the west to try to cut off any IS escape route.