The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has sounded an alarm amidst the carnage surrounding the recapture of Mosul, Iraq, where there are fears Islamic State militants will unleash chemical attacks and use tens of thousands as human shields.
Meanwhile, contingency plans are being implemented at national and international levels. Speaking by phone, IOM’s chief of mission for Iraq, Thomas Weiss, told Reuters there are forecasts that the offensive will cause displacement on a massive scale, as the Iraqi military has now reached the outskirts of Iraq’s second largest city.
“Tens of thousands of people may be forcibly expelled, they will be getting trapped between fighting lines under siege, they may be even held as human shields,” he said, as cited by Reuters.
Weiss added that IOM staff have been stocking up on gas masks since rumors began circulating about an imminent gas attack, but they’ve found few so far. “We also fear, and there has been some evidence that ISIL (Islamic State, IS, formerly ISIS) might be using chemical weapons. Children, the elderly, disabled, will be particularly vulnerable,” he said.
Still, according to the White House, holding back on an all-out assault on Mosul would prove to be detrimental, and would not save lives.
“I think the first thing for us to acknowledge… is that, while ISIL has been in charge of Mosul, they have engaged in a violent campaign to bring that city under their control. They’re killing civilians all the time,” Josh Earnest told a press briefing. “So, the idea that we – that somehow the Iraqi security forces – should delay the operation because of their concern or the humanitarian situation in Mosul, that doesn’t make sense.”
Earnest went on to say that coalition forces will nonetheless work to save as many lives as possible, while bringing up the UN’s earlier announcement that it was undertaking measures to address “significant or widespread humanitarian concerns.” Tents have reportedly been set up, and there is “a lot of planning” to provide food, water and other essential items to people fleeing the conflict zone, Earnest said.