2016-11-02 19:50:10

streaming from the city’s neighbourhoods in an attempt to flee the fighting. 

As the elite Counter Terrorism Service secured Gogjali, a neighbourhood in the east of the city on Wednesday, soldiers reported that hundreds of civilians - some carrying white flags - started leaving adjacent al-Samah as Isis fighters fell back.

One woman broke down in tears whilst speaking to local television. “I honestly don’t know what to say,” she said. “I am so happy we are liberated from Isis.”

Fleeing civilians in the area said that more than 300 locals had been killed during Isis’ brutal two-year-reign, under which women were forced to wear the face-covering niqab and men were forced to grow beards or face physical punishment. 

“We didn’t have anything [left]”, a man called Mahmoud told Save the Children humanitarian workers, who said his children hadn’t been to school in two years and food prices had soared. “ I even had to sell my car for money to spend on food and medicine.”

“I have four daughters. Before Isis the older ones were going to school and loved it. Then [when Isis took over] the content of the curriculum changed, so we stopped them going… Every lesson became militarised. Even maths lessons… they would teach the children ‘one bullet plus one bullet equals two bullets.’” 

Those evacuated from villages and outlying neighbourhoods in the first 16 days of the offensive are the luckier ones, although the UN’s humanitarian branch reports that the 18,000 people who have arrived at displacement camps so far are subsisting on a diet of bread and water, and food aid is critically needed. 

Several aid agencies are now expressing fears for the estimated one to 1.5million people who remain trapped inside Mosul - prevented from leaving by Isis, for whom a favourite tactic is corralling civilians into strategic areas to be used as human shields. 

“Protecting innocent civilians must be the priority in this battle. Reports that Isis has kidnapped people from villages nearby Mosul city shows they intend to make this fight as difficult as possible by hiding in a city full of civilians,” Save the Children’s Iraq County Director Maurizio Crivellaro said. 

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi has reassured aid groups and citizens that humanitarian corridors out of the city will be set up to allow people to leave - but leaflets and radio broadcasts have repeatedly told civilians to stay in their homes, sparking fears that the army will try to besiege the city instead in order to prevent the estimated 4,000 Isis fighters leaving among a refugee exodus.  

Mosul battle: Civilians flee ahead of fighting

Between 200,000 - 700,000 people are expected to try to leave the city, despite the presence of snipers and landmines. Even if they make it out, a severe funding shortfall - despite the fact the crisis is both manmade and long-expected - has left aid agencies struggling to meet demand. 

More than three million people in Iraq have already been displaced from their homes in the last two years because of upheaval caused by Isis which has strained both Iraqi and international resources. 

Wolfgang Gressmann, chief of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Iraq operations, said that his agency was “now bracing ... for the worst. The lives of 1.2 million civilians are in grave danger, and the future of all of Iraq is now in the balance.“ 

A 30,000 strong coalition of Kurdish peshmerga, Sunni tribal fighters, Shiite militias and Iraqi army troops have made uneven progress on four fronts since the assault to retake Mosul was announced by Mr Abadi two weeks ago.

The success - or failure - of the mission will have enduring ramifications for stability in Iraq; many observers fear further unrest in Mosul thanks to the complex and competing ambitions of the coalition forces on the Sunni-majority city.