Mosul offensive: Trapped residents fear what comes next

By Faisal Irshaid
BBC News

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Many families have been desperately seeking any ways to escape from western Mosul

Civilians in western Mosul describe what it is like there at the moment, as Iraqi forces try to drive out so-called Islamic State (IS).

'I could die in an air strike or be killed by IS' - Mohamed, activist

The situation inside the city is very stressful. Everyone knows more destruction is coming. There is not much movement on the streets and people are not leaving their homes, unless absolutely necessary or if there is an emergency.

Some try to store food in case the city falls under siege. We are very scared, and we are worried that the final stages are going to take long. IS will not give up and withdraw that easily and the whole operation might take as long as it did in east Mosul.

The hospitals are not fully functioning, and IS is using them to treat its own fighters only. Civilians go to private clinics if they need to get treatment. This is of course very expensive. IS is forcing some of the doctors to stay at the hospitals to treat their fighters.

There are a number of civilians who are trying to leave towards Syria, but this only happens covertly.

I have become used to the situation here. Though I am very worried about my family's safety.

I won't lie, I am scared too and I don't know if I am going to die in an air strike or killed by an IS fighter. I work for an anti-IS group called Sound and Picture and I am always worried that something could happen to my family because of me, or that they will see me in an IS video if get captured.

'Western Mosul is a ghost town now' - Samer, former teacher

IS is reinforcing its presence in the outskirts of the western part of the city. It is converting some of the houses into secret offices and operation rooms. They have also banned their fighters from taking breaks or going on leave.

We hear the sound of bombs and clashes all over the city. Planes have been flying over the city constantly over the past two weeks.

The city is a ghost town now. You very rarely find people on the streets. Busiest times are during prayer times, as IS still forces people to go to the mosques. In some mosques, names are being taken of those attending to later punish those who didn't attend the prayers.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Iraqi forces have been using heavy weapons, including multiple rocket launchers

We are all concerned it is going to take a long time till the city is liberated. After all, it took a long time for the east to be liberated. Many people have died or were injured.

We are also worried about food supplies and medicine stocks. If the situation continues as it is, we will run low on goods very soon. The medical situation is very worrying. Essential medicine, like insulin, are not there as IS took most of the stock.

My father has diabetes and I can't provide him with insulin or other medication. His health is getting worse.

My mother has high blood pressure and I can't buy her the necessary medicine; it is either not available or too expensive. I don't know what to do or how to help them.

People, including my neighbours, are trying to leave, but very few can afford to do so.

Some people had to pay $800 (£638) to an IS fighter to allow them to leave at night, secretly. And of course, leaving remains a big risk as some of those who attempted to flee were caught and killed.

There are still daily arrests in the city. Many are accused of working with "foreign parties", and - although IS militants are no longer strict about appearances - they punish those who smoke.

And they are shutting all internet cafes, making it very difficult for civilians to get any news from the outside world or to connect with anyone outside Mosul.

I am just like everyone else. The only advantage I have is that I have internet access. Of course, no-one knows about it and I am always worried that I get caught, as using the internet is a crime here.

'Everyone is scared' - Batool, stay-at-home mother

In my neighbourhood, there are checkpoints everywhere, around the clock. I heard some fighters have defected and IS are looking for them.

The streets don't look the same. Some of the neighbourhoods are beyond recognition. IS fighters are on alert, and the city is full of ramparts. It is like a proper military zone.

In some neighbourhoods, there are curfews between 9pm and 6am. Those who break the curfew and go outside are usually fined with a hefty penalty that could be as high as $1,000.

Of course, the humanitarian situation is getting worse day-by-day. There is barely milk for children. I am married with children and we don't have enough food to feed them. My husband can't provide enough for the family. Some goods are too expensive, while others are simply not available anymore.

This week I went outside the house and life didn't feel normal. I went to the shop and there were barely any goods on the shelves. Everything is a luxury now.

Everyone is scared and they are afraid of what might come next.

My in-laws live in a different neighbourhood in the city. We haven't seen them in a very long time. We have thought about escaping, but when you're a family with young children such a decision is not an easy one.