Islamic State 'targeting civilians' amid retreat from Mosul
Islamic State militants in Mosul are deliberately targeting civilians who refuse to join them as they retreat ahead of advancing Iraqi forces involved in a large-scale government operation to retake the militant-held city, an international watchdog has said.
The statement from Human Rights Watch on Wednesday also said that Mosul civilians were increasingly being caught in the crossfire, with at least 19 killed and dozens of others injured in the period between the third week in November and the first week of December.
The New York-based group said the fatalities were due to IS mortar or sniper fire, car bombs, roadside bombings and direct attacks, as well as in air strikes by the Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition. The findings were based on interviews with more than 50 residents who had fled eastern Mosul, HRW said.
It cited instances of IS militants telling residents that those who stay behind are "unbelievers" and therefore valid targets beside the Iraqi and coalition forces. HRW warned that targeting civilians or using them as human shields is a war crime, and appealed to both sides to spare civilians.
"Civilians are being hit from all sides in Mosul," said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW, adding that IS's "atrocities do not absolve Iraqi forces and the international coalition from doing their utmost to protect civilians".
The Iraqi military launched a massive operation in October to retake Mosul, the country's second largest city and the extremist group's last major urban bastion in Iraq. The troops' advances slowed once they pushed into more densely populated areas.
IS captured Mosul in the summer of 2014 as part of a blitz which placed nearly a third of Iraq under their control. Since last year, IS has lost swathes of western and northern Iraq.