Civilians caught up in fighting in the Iraqi city of Mosul must be protected at all costs and allowed to safely leave the conflict zone, Amnesty International said after an estimated 500,000 people were forced to flee their homes in the area.
"The takeover of Mosul by an armed opposition group which has in the recent past committed gross human rights abuses is a deeply concerning development,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Programme Director.
“Both sides in the conflict must ensure that civilians do not bear the brunt of the violence as they battle for control of the city.”
The Iraqi authorities announced yesterday that its security forces had lost control of Mosul, the country’s second largest city, to armed opposition groups belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) following armed clashes over the weekend.
The recent violence has already forced about half a million people to flee Mosul and its surroundings to neighbouring areas, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) figures issued on 10 June.
Mosul is the second city to fall to ISIS armed groups in the last six months after Iraqi security forces were forced out of Fallujah, Anbar governorate, in January.
The fighting in Anbar has reportedly displaced close to half a million Iraqis since January and caused 5,520 civilian deaths.
"The conflict in Mosul will no doubt add to the suffering of Iraqis. ISIS armed groups and the Iraqi security forces must avoid repeating the violence against civilians that took place in Fallujah and they should not block the way of those civilians seeking to flee the area,” said Said Boumedouha.
Government forces have used indiscriminate shelling in Fallujah in the past six months, including on hospitals and in residential areas.
ISIS have claimed responsibility for a number of car bomb blasts in other parts of Iraq as retaliation for the government attacks.
“The Kurdistan Regional Government and neighbouring countries must provide civilians fleeing the conflict with refuge,” said Said Boumedouha.
“The international community must also provide support towards the humanitarian needs of people displaced as a result of the violence.”
The fighting in Mosul takes place a few weeks after Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission announced the result of the April parliamentary elections and comes amid ongoing negotiations to form a new government.
Reports also emerged today that ISIS forces had taken control of the city of Tikrit, 95 miles north of Baghdad.