Iraq, US offer differing accounts of Mosul progress

Displaced Iraqis receive aid rations at the Hammam Al-Alil camp, south of Mosul. (AFP)
Updated 17 March 2017
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Iraq, US offer differing accounts of Mosul progress

MOSUL: Iraqi and US commanders offered conflicting accounts Thursday of progress in western Mosul, where US-backed Iraqi forces have been battling the Daesh group for nearly a month as they try to retake the remainder of the city.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, the American commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq, said the troops had recaptured “a little over a third” of neighborhoods west of the Tigris River, while Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman, said they had retaken up to 60 percent, with fighting still underway. Iraq declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” in January.
Iraqi officials have overstated gains in the past, declaring areas liberated from Daesh militants only to see the resumption of fighting or militant attacks. The extremists have targeted eastern Mosul with bombings and other attacks on several occasions in recent weeks.
Frontline commanders meanwhile said progress has been slow over the past week, with troops advancing just a few hundred meters in the face of Daesh car bomb attacks.
Lt. Ahmed Mahmoud of the militarized Federal Police said his unit was waiting until special forces cleared nearby neighborhoods before moving in to hold the territory. He spoke near Mosul’s antiquities museum, which Iraqi forces recaptured earlier this month.
He said Iraqi forces had launched three coordinated thrusts in western Mosul, hoping to overwhelm Daesh defenses.
The militants captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city when they swept across the country’s north in the summer of 2014. Iraqi forces have gradually clawed back territory since then and launched a massive operation to retake Mosul in October.
Despite US air support, the Iraqi advance has been slowed by snipers, roadside explosives and suicide car and truck bombs.
A suicide attacker driving a bulldozer rigged with explosives plowed through the Federal Police’s front line on Wednesday, killing more than 10 soldiers and wounding several others, according to a Federal Police medic who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Iraq’s military does not release casualty figures.
“Federal police and Rapid Response units imposed their complete control over the Al-Basha Mosque... and the Bab Al-Saray market in the Old City,” Lt. Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat, a federal police commander, said in a statement.
Iraqi forces advanced into the Old City and around Al-Nuri Mosque on Friday trying to seal off a key road to prevent militants sending in suicide bombers.
A helicopter fired rockets into the area and heavy gunfire and mortar blasts echoed as troops fought in districts near the mosque, where Daesh’s black flag hangs from its leaning minaret.
“Federal police and rapid response forces completely control the mosque, Al-Adala street and Bab Al-Saray market inside the Old City,” a federal police spokesman said. “Forces are trying to isolate the Old City area from all sides and then start an offensive from all sides.”
From a distance, the exhausted Iraqis fleeing parts of Mosul controlled by Daesh appeared to be pushing their worldly possessions on handcarts.
By the time they reached Reuters journalists it was clear that their cargo was far more precious and more tragic. One man lifted a grubby, fluffy blanket to reveal the dust and blood-covered body of a child, one of several piled up on the cart.
“This is my son. He is gone,” he said, describing how his family’s home had been hit by an airstrike. Iraqi helicopters have been pounding west Mosul with missiles.
“This happened because of airstrikes. These were in their homes and the airstrikes killed them,” the man said, showing other small bodies, cut by shrapnel or debris, on the cart.
He said the strike had happened three days earlier close to Mosul’s train station, an area the family had only just moved to after fleeing their home in the Wadi Hajar neighborhood where fighting had become too intense.
Other families trekking down the road toward buses sent to take civilians to camps used similar carts to transport elderly relatives.
They will join the 255,000 or so people already displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since October when the US-backed push began — creating a huge challenge for aid agencies delivering food and shelter to people who have known years of suffering.


Iraqi war victims turn to social media to find medical help

Updated 18 November 2018
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Iraqi war victims turn to social media to find medical help

  • Saleem lost her eyesight, right arm and an ear in the explosion, set off by a roadside bomb
  • They were faced with hospital bills they couldn't afford for treatment

BAGHDAD: It was spring 2007 in northern Iraq when 6-year-old Saja Saleem raced home from school with the good news about her excellent grades, hoping to receive the gift her father had promised her.
“All of a sudden, I found myself spinning into the air with fire trailing from my school uniform after a loud boom,” Saleem, now 17, recounted to The Associated Press.
Saleem lost her eyesight, right arm and an ear in the explosion, set off by a roadside bomb. Months later, her disfiguring injuries forced her to drop out of school after other students complained about her “scary face.”
Feeling helpless, Saleem recently turned to social media to find help. Eventually, her appeal grabbed the attention of a surgeon who offered free treatment.
Others have also reached out on social media.
Emotional videos and photographs of Iraqis with war wounds and disabilities have overwhelmed social media platforms, mainly Facebook, widely used in Iraq.
The widespread violence unleashed by the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein and the 2014-2017 battle against the Daesh group has wounded hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Many are maimed and scarred, their suffering lingering long after the violence subsides.
Poor medical services, scarcity of specialized staff and medical centers, and poverty have exacerbated the suffering. Those who cannot get treatment at state-run hospitals and cannot afford private clinics are looking to social media platforms to make appeals.
Appeals are posted on the personal Facebook pages of patients or on the pages of aid organizations and public figures with tens of thousands of followers. Patients describe their condition along with contact details. Messages are also distributed on platforms like WhatsApp and Viber.
Saleem and her family recall the explosion that upended her life, and the years that followed as they struggled financially to get her treatment.

The moment her life changed
“When I hit the ground, I felt severe pain all over my body ... I was bleeding, a pool of blood around me ... everything turned dark and I lost consciousness,” she recalled from her bed at a Baghdad hospital where she is undergoing free reconstructive and plastic surgeries.
Saleem’s mother, Khawla Omar Hussein, remembers her daughter’s screams when three weeks later, she regained consciousness and realized she had lost her right arm and ear.
“She woke up screaming, crying: ‘Mammy, mammy’,” Hussein recalled. “Then she asked: ‘Why can’t I see and why is everything dark?’“
They told her it was the bandages over her eyes and that she would see after they were removed. When that day came, the doctors told her she had lost both eyes.
Nearly two years later, Saleem’s family tried to send her back to school where she was accepted only as a “listener” in class, accompanying her brothers. But that arrangement ended soon as other students and teachers complained that her disfigured face was bothering them.
“I was crying day and night and became a very reclusive person,” Saleem said.
After the state-run hospital couldn’t go beyond the necessary treatment to save her life, Saleem’s family looked for plastic and reconstructive surgery for her at a private clinic, but they couldn’t afford the doctor’s $7,500 fee.

Her mother's appeal

Then, late last year, her mother made an appeal, posting photographs of Saleem and details about her ordeal in a public group on Viber. Days later, Baghdad-based Dr. Abbas Al-Sahan, one of Iraq’s best plastic surgeons, offered to do free surgeries.
Since January, Saleem has undergone four surgeries — first so her face could accommodate the two glass eyes, or ocular prostheses, then a procedure to reduce some of the scars. She also had a surgery to adjust to a prosthetic arm and is due to have plastic surgery to reconstruct her missing ear, Al-Sahan said.
Al-Sahan runs the only state-run specialized hospital for reconstructive and plastic surgery in Iraq. He said that about 40 percent of the monthly surgeries his hospital preforms — between 600 to 850 — are for victims of bombings and other war-related explosions, as well as for casualties of military operations.
Saleem’s family feels she is lucky. Not everyone gets the help they need through social media.
Iraqi army Capt. Salar Al-Jaff was shot by a sniper in January 2017, during the height of the fight to recapture the northern city of Mosul from the Daesh group. The bullet hit him in the head and left him paralyzed in one side of his body.
Since then, he has been treated for the head wound and for complications from lying in bed all the time, but not for the paralysis. He sold his car and all his possessions to be able to afford three injections a day, each costing $100, to overcome the pain.
He also appeared in a video, posted on social media, alongside a cleric who asks that someone help Al-Jaff.
But so far, there have been no offers for free treatment.