Iran tests sophisticated Russian-made air defense system

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Associated Press

Civilians fleeing ISIS in Mosul are being treated for chemical weapon agents

Business Insider UK 20 hours ago

mosul iraq civilian isis bombingREUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

The number of civilians escaping the fighting in Mosul has increased significantly as battles intensify between U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants, and some have been exposed to chemical agents, the Red Cross said on Friday.

Iraqi armed forces meanwhile said they had captured another district as they push towards the densely packed old city center where the fighting is expected to become tougher.

Among casualties in the past 48 hours, five children and two women were treated for exposure to chemical agents, suffering blisters, eye redness, vomiting and coughing, said the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

The United States has warned that Islamic State could use weapons containing sulfur mustard agents to repel the offensive on the northern Iraqi city.

Iraqi forces captured the eastern side of Mosul in January after 100 days of fighting and launched their attack on the districts that lie west of the Tigris river on Feb. 19.

Defeating Islamic State in Mosul would crush the Iraqi wing of the caliphate declared by the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in 2014, over parts of Iraq and Syria, although the group is expected to continue a campaign of insurgent attacks.

The Iraqi military believes several thousand militants, including many foreigners, are hunkered down in Mosul among the remaining civilian population, which aid agencies estimated to number 750,000 at the start of the latest phase of the battle.

Iraq ISIS Mosul map February 5Reuters

The battle for Mosul has killed and wounded several thousand people since it started on Oct. 17, according to aid agencies.

"We have noted a significant increase in displacement in last week, 30,000 in west Mosul, 4,000 a day or so," Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, told a news briefing in Geneva.

"Of course the military fighting is intensifying by the day," Bastien Vigneau, the emergency director for Mosul operations at the U.N children's agency UNICEF, told the briefing.

Speaking from Erbil, east of Mosul, he said over 100,000 children are among the 191,000 who have been displaced in total from the city since October.

Among them, UNICEF identified 874 children who were unaccompanied or separated. More than half have been reunited with parents, and the rest are being taken care of by extended family.

The militants are using suicide car bombers, snipers and booby traps to counter the offensive waged by the 100,000-strong force of Iraqi troops, Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iranian-trained Shi'ite Muslim paramilitary groups.

The Iraqi forces captured the Wadi Hajar district on Friday, an advance that allows them to link up all their forces in the south of the city, starting from the Tigris river and ending in the Mamoun district, according to military statements.

A female Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighter stands near a security position in Sinjar, March 13, 2015. Women fighters at a PKK base on Mount Sinjar in northwest Iraq, just like their male counterparts, have to be ready for action at any time. Smoke from the front line, marking their battle against Islamic State, which launched an assault on northern Iraq last summer, is visible from the base. Many of the women have cut links with their families back home; the fighters come from all corners of the Kurdish region.Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

Intra-Kurdish fighting erupted on the sidelines of the battle, highlighting the risk of conflict and turf war between the multiple forces arrayed against Islamic State, many of which lean on regional patrons for political support and arms.

The clash broke out when Peshmerga Rojava forces moved towards the border with Syria, encroaching on territory controlled by a local affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The Peshmerga Rojava is made up of Kurds from Syria and was formed and trained in Iraq with the backing of Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq