Battle for Mosul Portends Humanitarian Disaster

October 13, 2016

Makeshift structure in Iraq.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Nations is concerned that resources will be insufficient to meet needs of displaced people fleeing Mosul.

All signs indicate that a colossal battle in Iraq - the retaking of Mosul from Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists - is imminent, and a native Christian ministry is bracing for the colossal humanitarian crisis to follow.

Based just 59 miles from Mosul in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, the native Christian leader said military personnel are seen throughout the area as the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, 5,000 U.S. troops and, to a lesser extent, Popular Mobilization Forces have begun liberating villages around Mosul.

"We believe it's going to happen very soon, because it's already started," he said. "It will affect the whole city. Most of them are going to be driven out, because it's going to be a tough war. There are a lot of ISIS fighters there, and they're preparing."

Besides coercing men and boys to take up arms and installing an array of defenses, the estimated 3,500 to 5,000 ISIS fighters (7,000, according to ISIS) are also believed to have filled moats on the city's perimeter with oil, which when set on fire would send up clouds of smoke to reduce visibility for attacking bombers. Iraq's second largest city and the last major one to be held by ISIS, Mosul holds highly strategic and symbolic significance.

The population of metropolitan Mosul is disputed, with most estimates at 750,000 to 1.5 million. Before ISIS invaded in June 2014, its population was estimated at 2.5 million. With the invading forces' help, no fewer than 1 million people are expected to flee when the city is transformed into an urban battlefield.

"Most refugees will be women and children," the director said. "Not everybody will be able to flee. Wherever there is most military pressure, they will try to leave, but no one knows how many ISIS will allow to leave."

Some aid agency personnel suspect the displaced might flee in any direction, but the indigenous ministry director said Kurdistan is the only viable option for them. Kurdistan's city of Erbil, where throngs arrived after ISIS' 2014 occupation, is the closest major center for survival, he said. Many have walked there from Mosul, and the largely Sunni Muslim residents of Mosul know that if they go south, they would meet with hostility from the predominantly Shiite inhabitants.

Very few Christians remain in Mosul as most have fled or been killed, he said, adding that little is known about conditions or residents of Mosul because all communications have been cut.

Elderly man walking through camp in Erbil.
More people are expected to flee to camps such as this one in Erbil than the thousands who arrived when Islamic State terrorists took Mosul in 2014.

"I know a lady whose husband is there, and she doesn't know anything about them," he said. "We do know that people are essentially held hostage there living under sharia [Islamic law] under ISIS - whippings, cutting off hands, stoning. Anyone who thinks different from ISIS will be killed. They've beheaded a lot of people, killed children and women. They've taught children how to use weapons."

Mosul also suffers chronic shortages of water, electricity, food, clothing and education, he added. While there is some conjecture about how many of the residents of Mosul might willingly defend it against the ethnic/religious mix among the Iraqi coalition, most Sunnis who thought life might be better under ISIS have seen otherwise, he said.

"Most of the people now in Mosul got burned by what they thought was going to be good," he said. "Now they see it very clearly. Most people in Mosul are praying to God that liberation happens as soon as possible. Whether it's Shia or the American army or others, they just want to get rid of ISIS."

The Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of militias including mostly Shiite units, will reportedly have a minimal role in the upcoming offensive in order to reduce ISIS recruitment of Sunnis; it is also hoped that limiting their role could forestall conflicts after a victory. Should Mosul be retaken, analysts fear a prolonged battle for control of the city by the various factions now uniting to liberate it.

"The military will help them to flee," the director said. "When the military starts moving in, some people are going to start moving out. The government expects more than a million people to flee during the liberation of Mosul regardless of the results."

The Middle East director of Christian Aid Mission, which has assisted the Iraqi ministry's efforts to provide aid to displaced people in Erbil and Dohuk, said Christian Aid must have additional funds ready to send before survivors begin streaming out of Mosul.

The ministry director in Iraq said his team will require assistance for local purchase of food, clothing, blankets and tents and Bibles, as well as medical assistance.

"We are preparing ourselves for a scenario similar to what happened in 2014, but which could be much worse," he said. "The United Nations shows great concern about what will happen but will be unable to meet the demands of affected people if another refugee wave shows up."

The leader said his team is praying that they will be able to help displaced people physically, emotionally and spiritually.

"The people who flee to Kurdistan will be somebody who's seen their husbands or kids killed or their daughters enslaved," he said. "They will come without supplies and will sleep in the street. They're going to have kids who haven't eaten for days. We need to show them something different from how they lived under Islam."

He said that 99 percent of the displaced will fit into one of two categories.

"They will either hate religion or be so ready to receive Christ now," he said. "Their hearts are prepared 100 percent to receive Christ, so we're just praying for that moment to be the first ones to receive them."

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