Mosul, Iraq – Filing on foot past Iraqi troops, dozens of exhausted people walked across the bridge over the Tigris River, at a crossing approximately 50 miles from Erbil on the road outside Mosul, right before sunset.
Rain in the northern part of the country flooded the river and Iraqi soldiers were forced to disassemble at least two temporary bridges on the road to Mosul. Many of the bridges in northern Iraq had been destroyed since the rise of ISIS, which still holds at least 25 percent of Mosul. And after the flood subsided it took Iraqi soldiers nearly two full days to reassemble one of the bridges.
Civilians attempting to reach safety in East Mosul from the ISIS-controlled western part have to head southeast out of the city to cross the Tigris.
The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lisa Grande, told Yahoo News that when the bridge is closed it’s difficult to get aid to internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing the Islamic State. “What we’ve been doing is drawing down on the supplies that were already in the area,” she said, but in one district where there is an emergency camp, Hajj Ali, they “couldn’t provide” some of the necessary aid.
One of the Iraqi Army’s mechanics, Mohammed, told Yahoo News, “We took out the bridge, and we used [the boats] for the people, to take them [back and forth] between the east side and west side.”
The boats were brought from a military base. Mohammed estimated that thousands had come to the river hoping to cross, but he couldn’t be certain. Not everyone made it. The small motorboats had been packed with fleeing people all weekend. Then soldiers took the boats away, strapped onto military vehicles headed back to their base, while other soldiers shoveled dirt onto the bridge supports to shore them up.
Some of the families crossing stopped briefly to tell Yahoo News where they had come from or where they were going. Ashikat, 19, traveling with her mother, said she came from Jadida, the neighborhood hit by a U.S. airstrike last month. They had been staying in Mosul with another family, and were on their way to the house of Ashikat’s uncle in the eastern part of the city.
At a river-road checkpoint guarded by Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a mostly Shia brigade, four elderly men sat on the side of the road, waiting to be allowed to cross back into Mosul, to their homes.
Atia Khader, an elderly shepherd, said he was worried that all of his sheep were dead. “I want to go back home, and they won’t let me go, we even have buffalo there, we left everything there, car, house, everything,” he said, “The [PMF] said we don’t have permission. We asked where we can get permission, and they said we cannot go.”
Khader had fled his home over a month ago, and had been staying in the eastern part of Mosul in an abandoned and bombed-out apartment building.
Deep inside west Mosul, in the neighborhood of Dawassa, 30-year-old Zachariyah stooped to sift through a pile…