Iraqi families fleeing violence in the northern Nineveh province gather at a Kurdish checkpoint
Some 500,000 Iraqis have fled their homes in Iraq’s second city Mosul after jihadist militants took control, fearing increased violence.
The International Organisation for Migration said its sources on the ground estimated the violence leading up to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s takeover of Mosul “displaced over 500,000 people in and around the city”.
The violence in Mosul “has resulted in a high number of casualties among civilians,” IOM said, adding that “the main health campus, a group of four hospitals, is inaccessible, as it is in the middle of an area in which there is fighting.”
“Some mosques have been converted to clinics to treat casualties,” it said.
Vehicles have been banned from the city centre, and people are being forced to flee on foot in the face of indiscriminate shelling.
Neighbourhoods in the west of the city have been hit by a lack of drinking water after the main water station in the area was destroyed by bombing, and many families are facing food shortages, the IOM said.
IOM said it and other international organisations had received appeals from local Iraqi authorities for help dealing with the situation.
Jihadists are firmly in control of Iraq’s Mosul patrolling the streets and calling for employees to return to work a day after seizing the northern city.
Gunmen, some in military uniforms and others wearing black, stood guard at government buildings and banks, said witnesses reached by telephone from Bashiqa, a town east of Mosul.
They called over loudspeakers for government employees to go back to work.
Hassan al-Juburi, 45, said the militants had set the punishment at 80 lashes for residents who use the abbreviation “ISIL”.
“I did not open the door of the shop since last Thursday because of the security conditions,” said Abu Ahmed, a 30-year-old shop-owner.
Witnesses reported that dozens of families continued to flee the city, but Ahmed said: “I will remain in Mosul. This is my city in any case, and the city is calm now.”
Bassam Mohammed, a 25-year-old university student, also said he would stay in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which normally has a population of around two million people.
“But I am afraid about freedoms, and I am especially afraid that they will impose new laws on us,” Mohammed said.
Jihadists seized all of Mosul and Nineveh province, long a militant stronghold and one of the most dangerous areas in the country, and also took areas in Kirkuk province, to its east, and Salaheddin to the south.
This video, uploaded to YouTube yesterday, appears to show the city of Mosul under the control of the militants.
Abandoned vehicles of government forces are in flames on the streets and fighters are seen roaming the city in pickup trucks.
ISIL said it was behind operations in Nineveh in a series of messages on Twitter, while officials have also blamed the jihadist Sunni group for the unrest.
But it is possible that other militant groups have been involved as well.
Bloodshed is running at its highest levels in Iraq since 2006-2007, when tens of thousands were killed in clashes between the country’s Shiite majority and Sunni Arab minority.
It has controlled the Iraqi city of Falluja since December and has won territory in neighbouring Syria.
The insurgents have now advanced into the oil refinery town of Baiji, setting the court house and police station on fire, security sources said today.
The refinery is protected by around 250 guards, and security sources said the militants had sent a delegation of local tribal sheikhs to convince them to withdraw.
The sources said the guards agreed to pull out on condition they were transferred safely to another town.
The US has said the militants are a threat to the whole region, calling the situation “extremely serious” and urging fractious political groups to fight Iraq’s enemies together.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the takeover of Iraq’s second biggest city in the last 48 hours by forces from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant showed the deterioration of security in the country.
Washington has supplied large amounts of weaponry to Iraq since pulling its forces out in 2011, but Baghdad has failed to heal festering sectarian and political divisions and to curb instability spilling over from the Syrian civil war.