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After fleeing homes, Iraqis near Mosul wait for tents
By Tony Gamal-Gabriel
Hamam Al-Alil, Iraq (AFP) March 14, 2017

Over 80,000 Iraqis displaced in west Mosul fighting: IOM
Baghdad (AFP) March 14, 2017 - More than 80,000 people have fled west Mosul since the battle to retake the area began last month, the International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday.

Iraqi forces launched a major push to retake west Mosul -- the most populated urban area still held by the Islamic State group -- on February 19.

The IOM began recording displacements from the area six days later, and 80,568 people have fled since then, it said on its official Twitter account.

But that is still a small fraction of the 750,000 people who were estimated to still reside in west Mosul at the time the operation began.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since retaken most of the territory they lost.

Iraqi forces launched the operation to recapture Mosul from IS in October, retaking its east before setting their sights on its smaller but more densely-populated west.

According to the IOM, more than 238,000 people are currently displaced due to fighting in the Mosul area, while more fled but later returned to their homes.

A sea of tents stretches to the horizon at a camp for displaced near Mosul but Ahmed Hassan says he and 17 relatives have to sleep outside because there is no room.

Tens of thousands of civilians have poured into camps set up around Mosul as Iraqi forces battle to retake the city from Islamic State group jihadists.

"It's a nightmare. No camp will take us in. They're all full," says Hassan, a short man in his fifties who wears a traditional headdress and a grey coat over his white robe.

Instead, Hassan, two cousins and their families -- 18 people in all -- have set up camp with other displaced Iraqis inside the concrete shell of an unfinished building just outside a camp in the Hamam al-Alil area.

White and blue tarpaulin sheets stretch between the building's naked columns to block the battering wind. Clothes are hung to dry.

Women and children wearing dirty pyjamas sit on dusty blankets on the ground, surrounded by their meagre possessions: a few chickens, sacks of rice and bottles of water.

"We don't know where to go. It's cold here. Children and women are in the street," says Hassan, who fled fighting in the Badush area northwest of Mosul.

Aid groups working in the nearby camp have brought him and his family food, blankets and grey mattresses.

But, says his neighbour Abdullah Khidr, tents have run out.

"We eat well here, but there are so many displaced people -- so many -- that there are no more tents," says the man in his sixties who also fled Badush.

Khidr, his wife and their seven children were escaping fighting for the second time after fleeing west Mosul just three months before.

Iraqi forces launched an assault to retake Mosul from IS in October, more than two years after the jihadists took control of the northern city, Iraq's second largest.

- 'Lost dreams' -

After recapturing the east of Mosul, Iraqi forces last month set their sites on the west, where hundreds of thousands of civilians remain trapped.

More than 68,000 people have fled west Mosul since February 25, streaming to camps around the city, according to the International Organization for Migration.

"We have not got to that stage yet where there is no capacity whatsoever in the camps," says Hala Jaber, IOM spokeswoman for the Mosul crisis, who says there are 17 camps in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital.

"Large numbers of people are arriving on a daily basis," she says. "Some procedural checks needed to be undertaken by the government before people are moved. Things may be getting slightly backlogged and people ending up staying more than a day or two."

Melany Markham, spokeswoman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, which recently took over the management of Hamam al-Alil, says an extension to the site is planned in coming weeks.

"There will be room for around 30,000 people with about 4,000 tents," she says.

Behind her, a stream of buses ferries in hundreds more displaced Iraqis, who wait for someone to look after them in a vast muddy area outside the camp.

Omar Ahmed, 22, is among the lucky ones to have made it inside.

"There are four or five families per tent. Men sleep outside while women and children are inside," he says.

When IS overran Mosul in mid-2014, Ahmed still had a year left of secondary school, shattering his hopes of heading to university to become a teacher.

"Before we could have dreams. Now they're lost," he says.

Rain gushes down on the Hamam al-Alil camp, transforming its alleyways into slushy swamps.

In one, three children in their pyjamas try to clean their muddy plastic sandals by dipping them in a puddle.

Priceless remains lie in ruins at Mosul museum
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) March 12, 2017
It was once home to priceless archaeological treasures, but these days you get into Mosul museum in Iraq's second city via a gaping hole in the basement. In the darkness lies a pile of rubble - all that remains of two ancient Assyrian statues of winged bulls, smashed to pieces by Islamic State group jihadists. Iraqi forces announced that they retook the building from IS on Tuesday as th ... read more

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