Recapturing Mosul: Huge military advancement equals huge humanitarian crisis

Jennie Matuschak, Contributing Writer

The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) began in 2004 as a fragment of al Qaeda, which at the time was much more expansive and powerful than it is today. After the death of Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda desperately tried to recruit Sunni fighters to help avenge the repressive acts committed by the Shiite-majority government, and to ultimately establish Sunni power in Iraq. Now, with the goal of creating a Sunni Islamic state, IS has grown extensively; however, it is imperative to understand that although IS characterizes its motives as religious, it in no way represents the principles of Islam. Moreover, IS fighters are known to destroy historic holy sites and ruin valuable Islamic relics.

IS militants took the city of Mosul, Iraq in 2014. In response to this expansion, Iraqi forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni Arab tribesmen, and Shia militiamen, in conjunction with the United States, launched an attack in the fall of 2016 to dismantle IS and eradicate the group from Iraq. After liberating eastern Mosul in January of this year, this coalition has continued to fight tirelessly in hopes of forcing the retreat of IS out of the entirety of the city. On Feb. 23, in a fight that lasted four hours, Iraqi forces recaptured the Mosul airport, a key victory that will help secure southern routes to western Mosul. Now, the Iraqi army is less than a mile outside of western Mosul, where IS militants launch attacks from densely populated neighborhoods.

The fight to retake western Mosul will be much more difficult and needs to be carefully executed, since an estimated 750,000 people are still trapped inside this portion of the city. Although leaflets warning residents of imminent warfare have already been dropped and dispersed throughout Mosul, few people have actually been able to escape. Uncertainty is widespread in the city, as people are unsure whether they will die from an air strike or an IS fighter. The UN has warned that this upcoming offensive could potentially displace up to 400,000 civilians and reported that those who have already fled, especially children, have shown severe signs of irreversible trauma.

Since many news sources tend to focus on the intensity of the major victories and losses of military battles, the serious humanitarian crises that accompany such a conflict are often understated. The combative work that Iraqi forces, alongside its coalition of fighters, have done so far to drive out IS and reclaim its territory is of course remarkable; however, not enough attention has been given in regard to the deaths and displacement of civilians as a result of this conflict. Especially in the case of western Mosul, the Iraqi coalition cannot engage in an airstrike without jeopardizing the majority of civilians unable to leave the city. Although it may be militarily strategic in terms of abolishing IS, an airstrike would convey a disregard for the lives of Mosul citizens.

Much more needs to be done to ensure the safety of civilians before launching such an extreme attack. There needs to be better preparation on the part of international organizations and neighboring countries to help citizens leave these conflict ridden areas safely, even if only temporarily. Civilian lives must be prioritized first by military strategists, in regard to the method of the attack, and second by other states, NGOs, and IGOs regarding the influx of refugees. Due to the inevitability of combat, foreign countries, especially the United States, must act now to open up their borders and anticipate the thousands of families who have been forced out of their homes due to this attack.

What seems to be forgotten is the simple fact that refugees are real people. They are your mother, your husband, your daughter, your friend, your coworker, your neighbor. They are people, driven from the comfort of their homes and culture, who are trying to survive. If you were them, where would you go?

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