(The New York Times ) By the time little Amira, just a year old, reached the field clinic near the front line in Mosul, she was already dead. All her father could do was bundle her up in a golden blanket, carry her to a nearby mosque and bury her.
When a Humvee pulled up to the door of the clinic, a young boy in the back was draped over a man’s body. “My father, answer me!” he cried. “My father, answer me! Don’t die!” But he, too, was already dead.
It was barely noon on Wednesday, and eight bodies had already arrived at the clinic, an abandoned house where medics provide a minimum of treatment, just enough to keep the lucky ones alive long enough for the hourlong drive to a trauma center.
The battle for Mosul, which started six weeks ago, aims to evict ISIL from its last major stronghold in Iraq. But civilians are paying a growing price, with more and more dead flowing out of the dense, urban combat zones each day.
The carnage, along with significant military casualties, has prompted some military officials to second-guess their initial strategy, which asked residents to stay in their homes and rise up against ISIL. There has been no uprising, and civilians are dying at home, all of which is fueling concern that the campaign could become a quagmire.
The Iraqi authorities are also considering greater firepower. But introducing new weapons that may be more effective against ISIL fighters, like artillery and tanks, also risks putting civilians in even greater danger.
For now, most of the civilians killed are casualties of ISIL artillery and snipers, soldiers say. The rising civilian toll has ground the fight to a crawl, as Iraqi forces are unable to make substantial progress and protect civilians at the same time. The government is considering a mass evacuation, but even that might make civilians more vulnerable if the Iraqi military were to change its tactics.
In a bid to regain some momentum, the American-led coalition on Wednesday bombed another bridge over the Tigris River in Mosul, leaving only one intact. The goal is to prevent ISIL, also known as ISIS or ISIL, from resupplying its forces in east Mosul, where Iraqi forces have bogged down.
Humanitarian workers, already fearing a siege of Mosul’s city center that could drag on until the spring, are drawing up plans for airdrops or sending food into the city on boats up the Tigris.
“What we’re seeing is terrifying,” said Lise Grande, the top United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq. “ISIL is intentionally targeting civilians, firing directly at them. Scores of people, including young children and women, are arriving daily in hospitals. Their injuries are horrific. The wounded are traveling for hours to reach proper care.”
She said that if the Iraqi security forces start using heavy artillery, “there is no doubt civilian casualties will increase exponentially.”
“We cannot rule out that Daesh will push people into the firing zone,” she added, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL. “The result would be catastrophic.”
Many are questioning the wisdom of the Iraqi government’s decision, before the battle began, to drop millions of leaflets over the city imploring civilians to remain in their homes. The objective was to avert a humanitarian crisis set off by hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing, but instead civilians are increasingly dying as they are caught in the crossfire while soldiers make their way, house by house, through densely populated neighborhoods.
“The problem is all the civilians,” Brig. Gen. Fadhil Barwari, a special forces commander, said in an interview. “I can’t use my tanks, I can’t use my artillery.”
Another problem is that the pre-battle intelligence the Iraqis relied on was wrong. Iraqi intelligence officers had predicted that once security forces reached Mosul, civilians, including tribal fighters who had been feeding information about ISIL from inside, would rise up, and that the city would fall quickly.