Iraqi commanders are petitioning Iraq’s prime minister to change the rules of engagement in the fight to clear Islamic State from the city of Mosul.
“Inside Mosul, we are handcuffed by the presence of civilians,” an Iraqi general lamented to The Wall Street Journal. ISIS is using the nearly 1.5 million remaining civilians in Mosul as human shields against Iraqi and U.S. attacks.
“If there were no civilians, we’d just burn it all,” an Iraqi counter-terrorism commander told The Washington Post in mid-November. He said ISIS floods the streets with civilians when his forces enter, stopping the deployment of heavy munitions. “I couldn’t bomb with artillery or tanks, or heavy weapons. I said, ‘We can’t do anything,” he lamented.
Iraqi generals are now equipping troops with night vision goggles and other technology to go after ISIS at night when civilians are asleep. ISIS’s use of human shields renders overwhelming U.S. airstrikes less effective, turning the fight into a street by street slog. The United Nations estimates nearly 20 percent of casualties so far have been suffered by civilians, representing a 15 percent increase from normal rates in ISIS battles.
The U.S. and Iraq have no plans to allow civilians to flee during the operation. “A mass exodus from that city is not necessarily something that the Iraqis believe will be in the best interest of that population,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters in October.
Cook echoed fears that ISIS militants will use an established humanitarian corridor to disguise themselves as civilians, and mount an insurgency in other areas of Iraq. Iraqi officers told The Washington Post ISIS occasionally lets civilians flee as a method of forcing a pause in battle.
“They are coming from everywhere. We don’t know if they are fighters or civilians. They are carrying bags — we don’t know what’s inside,” an Iraqi commander was overheard saying on a military radio.
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