Iraqi forces have pushed ISIS into a shrinking rectangle no more than 300 by 500 meters beside the Tigris river, but slowed their advance on Tuesday out of caution for an estimated 10,000 civilians trapped there alongside the militants, reported Reuters.
Residents have been caught in the crossfire - and often intentionally targeted by ISIS - since the offensive began more than eight months ago. Thousands have been killed and around 900,000 - around half of Mosul’s pre-war population - have been displaced.
Thousands of people in the last patch of Mosul still controlled by the insurgents have been huddling for weeks in similar conditions, with little food and no electricity. They fear being bombed if they remain in place and being shot by snipers if they try to flee.
Those in the historic Old City, the offensive’s final target, have been besieged and under fire for longer than those in any other part of Mosul, and the toll is apparent.
Children are emerging bone thin and severely dehydrated, elderly people are collapsing en route. In many cases there is nothing to eat besides boiled wheat.
From the mustering point, camouflaged army trucks carry the evacuees across the Tigris river to a security screening center in the shadow of the Nineveh Oberoi Hotel, a former five-star hotel which ISIS once used to house foreign fighters and suicide bombers.
More than 4,000 people have passed through that screening center since mid-May, said Lieutenant Colonel Khalid al-Jabouri, who runs the site. In that time, security forces have detained around 400 suspected ISIS members, he said.
“They are wanted so they cross with the civilians like they are one of them,” he told Reuters. “In order to relieve our country from these pigs, we have to check every person who comes and goes.”
The number of ISIS militants fighting in Mosul, by far the biggest city it has ever controlled, has dwindled from thousands at the start of the US-backed offensive to a couple of hundred now, according to the Iraqi military.
The security forces rely on a list of names and witness testimonies to identify suspected ISIS members. Even as the military offensive draws to a close, though, it is clear that some militants have managed to slip through the cracks.
Suspected militants are arrested on a daily basis in Mosul neighborhoods proclaimed “liberated” from ISIS months ago, and several suicide attacks have already been carried out in those areas.