Civilians in a "smoke-filled hell" as advance through Mosul continues

Militants have unleashed a wave of suicide bomb attacks in recent days as special forces fight the “toughest urban warfare that any force in the world could undertake"

Civilians in a "smoke-filled hell" as advance through Mosul continues

Displaced people walk past a checkpoint near Qayara, south of Mosul, Iraq, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. Image: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

Fighters loyal to the so-called Islamic State have unleashed a wave of suicide bomb attacks in recent days as the Iraqi army’s push to recapture the city of Mosul continues.

Troops from the elite Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) broke into Mosul on Monday and have taken seven eastern districts in the city over the past week.

Troops have been inching their way through the city as militants hide amongst civilians before targeting soldiers in what a CTS spokesman told Reuters is the “toughest urban warfare that any force in the world could undertake."

The Islamic State militants have deployed waves of suicide car bombs, mortar attacks, roadside bombs and sniper fire while also leaving fighters among residents of areas taken over by the advancing army, according to Reuters reports.

Many of the city’s civilians have found shelter in refugee camps after escaping areas controlled by the terrorist organisation.

Oxfam spokesperson, Amy Christian said the people there have had their lives turned around - although the escape from the city has taken an extreme toll:

Thousands of families are living in a “smoke-filled hell” with scant access to clean water or medical services in towns and villages on the road to Mosul according to Oxfam.

The charity said militants set 19 oil wells ablaze resulting in fires that have “produced clouds of thick black smoke and fumes across an area larger than Greater London” during their retreat into the city.

They said the smoke clouds are large enough to “block out the sun and turn children’s faces grey with oily soot.”

Locals living near the oil wells told the charity the smoke is burning their throat and lungs and has left babies with difficulty breathing.

The problem has been compounded by reports that militants have set fire to a large sulphur plant which, according to NASA, is emitting “tremendous quantities of sulphur dioxide” into the atmosphere.

Using satellite images NASA scientists are monitoring the events in real-time and have warned that if the sulphur dioxide was coming from a volcano rather than a fire it would already be among the largest eruptions of 2016.

NASA scientist Nikolay Krotkov said a fire in the same plant in 2003 had released roughly 600 kilotons of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere.

“So much that it was the largest non-volcanic release of sulphur dioxide we had ever observed with satellites,” he said.

“Hopefully, the current fire will be controlled well before emissions reach that level.” 

Oxfam Ireland CEO Jim Clarken said traumatised families have “fled violence with only the clothes they were wearing and cannot face the harsh Iraqi winter without help.”

The charity has called on the Iraqi government to prioritise extinguishing the fires and to seek external support if necessary with six wells around Mosul still under the extremists' control.