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More Civilians Flee ISIS-Held Iraqi City Of Mosul


Let's get a look at the fight to retake the city of Mosul in Iraq from the Islamic State. Iraqi forces have been waging that fight for some weeks with U.S. help. And NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Erbil, a city in northern Iraq not far away. Hi, Peter.


INSKEEP: How's the Iraqi offensive going?

KENYON: Slowly but it's still an advance. There's a brigadier general from the Iraqi Army who says new villages now taken in the South and Southwest of Mosul. U.S. trained counterterrorism forces have new territory in the East. That's all being cleared - mines, booby traps and the like.

There's some controversy out in the West. This is an area - the city of Tal Afar. And the main road is now controlled by Iraqi-Shiite militias. They've been accused of sectarian abuses in the past. Tal Afar's largely a minority Turkmen area. And Baghdad is trying to reassure residents and allies like Turkey that these Shiite militias aren't going into the city. And there's a lot of skepticism here about that so people are watching it closely.

INSKEEP: You've mentioned most of the points of the compass there, Peter - east, south, southwest, west - a reminder that there's fighting in most of the directions from this city. What does that mean for civilians in the area?

KENYON: Well, as the pace of the military advance has slowed, the pace of civilian flight has picked up and is expected to keep picking up. Yesterday I was at the Hassan Shami camp, which is one that NPR visited just a few weeks ago. It was brand new then, nearly empty. Now it's packed and so is a new extension they just built. And there's more construction going on.

As you can imagine, it's full of sad stories. I was talking to a middle-aged woman from Mosul about the destruction of the city that she loved. And then she mentioned that her own 25-year-old son had been beheaded by ISIS. And then as she was talking, another woman came up - quietly joined the conversation. Well, here's a bit of how it sounded.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Now, this first woman is saying her dead son left three children behind who need raising. And then the second woman came up and said they fled their Mosul neighborhood when a mortar hit their house. Her 8-year-old daughter was killed immediately, a 4-year-old son received light shrapnel wounds. She took me to the family's tent, showed me young Ahmed (ph) wounded in the head lightly. And then there's more of these stories, more families arriving every day. Aid groups are really scrambling to winterize the camps. There's rain coming in the forecast as early as Wednesday and the temperatures are down around freezing at night.

INSKEEP: Do people at least have adequate food and supplies as the population of that camp keeps going up?

KENYON: Yes. I would say they're keeping up but it's a scramble. They're slapping tarps on the tents to get ready for the rain. They're pouring gravel so they don't turn into swampy pits of mud all around. It's just blankets. There are some heaters, not enough gas to go around. Medical supplies are a bit scarce. Hospital beds in Erbil, in fact, in the emergency rooms are hard to find. So they're scrambling. It's not a crisis at this point, though.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Peter Kenyon, who's in northern Iraq. Peter also covers Syria for us. And I want to ask about a major development in Syria, Peter, because we're told that Syria's government has continued attacking rebels in the city of Aleppo and they've taken some large part of the city. What have you learned?

KENYON: Well, these are reports coming from the Syrian military state TV and a U.K.-based monitoring group - the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They say this district of al-Sahur (ph) in Eastern Aleppo has fallen to government forces. That's seen as a significant blow to the rebels. They've been hit, of course, by intense airstrikes and bombardment, along with up to a quarter-million civilians living there.

There are reports that thousands of those civilians have fled towards Syrian-Kurdish controlled parts of the city. The U.N. has condemned the assault and they say there is no military solution. But regime supporters have said breaking the hold on Aleppo could be a turning point.

INSKEEP: They're offering their own military solution. That's NPR's Peter Kenyon. Peter, thanks.

KENYON: Thanks Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.