Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in Mosul, Iraq
Tomorrow morning (4 January), Council members will be briefed by OCHA head Stephen O’Brien in consultations under “any other business” on the humanitarian situation in and around Mosul. Russia requested the meeting last Thursday.
Council members will be concerned to know what the humanitarian consequences have been for civilians since the beginning of the offensive to dislodge ISIL from Mosul in October 2016, launched by Iraqi forces with the US-led anti-ISIL coalition providing air support. At that time, the UN estimated that between 1.2 and 1.5 million people were in Mosul and warned that ISIL could use the civilian population as human shields, or even forcibly expel a large number of civilians towards the front lines of fighting. Council members will also want to know more about the further deterioration of the humanitarian situation following the second phase of the Mosul offensive, which began on 29 December.
O’Brien is likely to report that since the offensive began, over 111,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting in Mosul, with a majority of the displaced population in camps and emergency sites set up outside the city. He is also likely to convey to Council members that the most recent OCHA estimates are that over one million people in Mosul face food and water shortages and are out of the reach of humanitarian assistance. OCHA has warned that in the worst case scenario, over one million people could be forced to leave the city as a result of the fighting. Council members may ask about the UN’s contingency plans and current capacities of the UN and its partners to respond to such a scenario.
Council members will want to hear what impact the decision by the Iraqi government in November to cut the remaining supply route linking Mosul to ISIL-held areas in Syria has had on the civilian population. Council members are aware that the airstrikes on the bridges over the Tigris River that connect the eastern and western parts of Mosul are aimed at restricting the movement of ISIL militants within Mosul, but there is a great deal of concern that this could further hamper the ability of civilians to escape the fighting. Members may ask O’Brien to elaborate on the effects of restrictions of movement of the civilian population caused by the destruction of bridges in Mosul and lack of viable safe passage routes for civilians.
In addition, O’Brien is likely to update Council members on how a number of security incidents have affected the already limited aid operations in the parts of Mosul which have been recaptured by the government. For example, on 22 December, ISIL detonated a triple car bomb in the eastern outskirts of Mosul killing at least 23 civilians. In separate incidents on 20 and 21 December, four aid workers and seven civilians were killed by mortar fire while waiting for emergency assistance in eastern Mosul, while over 40 others were injured. Following these attacks, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande said that “all parties to the conflict–all parties–have an obligation to uphold international humanitarian law and ensure that civilians survive and receive the assistance they need”.
While the Council has been very active regarding ISIL in the context of its counter-terrorism work, the security response to ISIL is happening largely outside the Council’s purview. Council members are therefore expected to be interested in the updates on the humanitarian situation, but are likely to refrain from being strongly critical of the anti-ISIL military offensive and it appears unlikely that any action will be taken.