ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Iraq’s government says its security forces, with U.S. support, reclaimed two more districts in Mosul today from ISIS militants. This footage released today by the Iraqi defense ministry shows helicopter attacks on ISIS positions to dislodge militants who have occupied Iraq’s second largest city for two years. The defense ministry says it has destroyed more than 40 ISIS hideouts and killed about 900 militants in the past month.
As thousands of Mosul residents try to flee the city, the United Nations reports ISIS is carrying out mass executions of civilians.
Joining me now to talk about this is Alex Milutinovic, who is directing relief efforts in Iraq for the International Rescue Committee. He is in the Iraqi city of Erbil, about 50 miles east of Mosul.
And, Alex, we understand from the World Health Organization, as many as 48,000 people have fled Mosul. Where are they going?
ALEKSANDAR MILUTINOVIC, INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: At the moment, we have over 50,000 people that have fled the surrounding of Mosul City. Most of the people, two-thirds of them, are leaving towards the camps and the remaining one third of people are living with host community.
ALISON STEWART: Is the Islamic State allowing people to leave? Because there have been reports that the idea is to use civilians — their idea is to use civilians as human shields.
ALEKSANDAR MILUTINOVIC: Unfortunately, the civilians are not allowed to leave the Mosul City. They are being used as a human shield and our concern goes to the people of Mosul City who are now trapped in a very difficult situation. They are basically trapped between the — you know, in the fighting zone and they have a hard time fleeing and finding safety.
ALISON STEWART: And how are the conditions for the people who are still in Mosul, the citizens, in terms of food, water, medical care?
ALEKSANDAR MILUTINOVIC: Basically, Mosul City has been under ISIS control for the past two years. And during these two years, people have spent all of their savings. So, the situation is getting dire. The medicines are almost not available. The food is available, but the cost is rising, and we are seeing more and more people that come out that are malnourished.
So, it’s a pretty difficult situation and we are hoping that very soon, we will be able to provide assistance to everyone who flees the city.
ALISON STEWART: The U.N. report that came out recently describing the situation in Mosul described the possibility of chemical weapons being used? What can you tell me about that?
ALEKSANDAR MILUTINOVIC: Well, basically, we have seen reports before of the chemical weapons being used. It is our biggest fear. Civilians are basically — have to be protected by all party to this conflict and we need to ensure civilian safety is the number one priority of all warring side.
We are afraid. We are concerned. We have seen civilian casualties and we want to make sure that this doesn’t repeat again.
ALISON STEWART: The fight over Mosul is about a month old at this point. The U.N. report and the “New York Times” cited reports of people being executed, civilians, and being labeled as “traitors” and being killed as a betrayal. Why the focus on this betrayal? And why the public execution of citizens in Mosul?
ALEKSANDAR MILUTINOVIC: ISIS has a brutal rule. For the past two years, they have been ruling with an iron fist in the Mosul area, and all areas under their control. We have seen a number of cases and heard about a number of cases of civilians being executed for as little as having mobile phone.
There is huge fear among ISIS right now, that most of the people who are in the city or some people in the city are actually cooperating with the security forces. So, they’re using this opportunity to send a message to all the people who are trying to either organize a coup or try to provide information to the security forces that they will be killed.
So, our concern, again, goes for the civilian population of Mosul. They’re trapped right now, and the fighting is coming close. So, they’re seeing a lot more — they’re hearing a lot more explosions. There are a lot more activities on the outskirts of the Mosul City and the population of the city is terrified. They have been living two years under their rule and they would need a lot of assistance, especially with mental health, once they are able to reach safety.
ALISON STEWART: Alex Milutinovic of the International Rescue Committee — thank you so much for your work and for being with us.