Thousands flee Iraq’s Mosul overnight

Families walk past an Islamic State sign while fleeing clashes between Iraqi forces and Islamic State group militants in western Mosul, Thursday, March 2, 2017. The United Nations says over 28,000 people have fled the city since the operation to retake its remaining militant-held western districts was launched last month. (AP Photo/Susannah George)

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — Thousands of civilians fled Mosul overnight as Iraqi forces advanced north of a sprawling military base near the city’s airport on Friday.

Iraq’s special forces pushed into the Wadi Hajar district in western Mosul and retook the area from the Islamic State group Friday, according to Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, spokesman of the Joint Military Operations.

Special forces Brig. Gen. Haider al-Obeidi said clearing operations were ongoing in the area and his forces were close to linking up with the militarized federal police forces who were pushing up along the western bank of the Tigris river.

Iraqi forces, including special operations forces and federal police units, launched an attack on the western part of Mosul nearly two weeks ago to dislodge IS. Since the offensive began, more than 28,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, according to the United Nations.

Nahla Ahmed, 50 fled Mosul late Thursday night, walking more than five kilometers (three miles) from her home in the Shuhada neighborhood.

“All the families were hiding behind a wall,” she said, explaining how they escaped an IS-held part of the city. “We gave the children valium so they wouldn’t cry and (the IS fighters) wouldn’t catch us.”

Ahmed, like most of the civilians who have escaped Mosul in the past week, fled through Mamun neighborhood. The district is partially controlled by Iraq’s special forces.

Maj. Saif Ali, who is stationed in Mamun, said huge crowds of civilians began pouring into the area from neighboring districts just after midnight. Ali said civilians in western Mosul are becoming increasingly desperate as food and water supplies begin to run out.

“In total 7,000 people fled through this area last night,” he said. “We were up all night trying to control the crowds.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday “the latest figures we have of people recorded leaving western Mosul is 28,400 and that’s since operations in west Mosul started on Feb. 19.

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