Families caught in crossfire in western Mosul

Dramatic footage from the battle to retake western Mosul shows families caught in the crossfire as Iraqi security forces face off against Islamic State militants.

The roar of gunfire echoes through the rubble-strewn streets of the Tayaran neighborhood in west Mosul, as a group of civilians scurries for cover.

A man carrying his child in his arms, looks back over his surroundings with unease after huddling in his home for days as intense fighting raged outside.

Suddenly, a huge blast erupts nearby; scattering Iraqi soldiers and civilians in the city's war-torn streets as a massive plume of black smoke rises.

This is the dramatic footage, shot by freelance cameraman Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, more than two weeks after the offensive to drive ISIS out of west Mosul began.

The scenes are a snapshot of the complex conditions facing the country's military as soldiers work to clear the region of militants. Since then, Iraqi forces have been fighting house-by-house, block-by-block against ISIS extremists.

ISIS' weapon of choice 

The source of the explosion: a suicide car bomb just down the street, which sent shreds of metal and cement flying into the air and clanking onto the pavement.

An Iraqi Federal Police Humvee is in flames. A soldiers sits on the curb, clutching his chest. Screams of others -- whose limbs were blown away -- can be heard down the street. Another soldier runs away from the burning vehicle with a wounded comrade slung over his shoulder. 

The police responded to the car bomb by shooting thousands of rounds. Suicide car bombs are ISIS's preferred weapon here and car bombs are often followed by ISIS counterattacks. Dozens have been driven toward Iraqi troops.

Despite this, Iraqi forces have managed to retake half of western Mosul since the western offensive began on February 19.

Earlier this week, the Iraqi Prime Minister told remaining militants to surrender or face death. The warning was issued after security forces made significant gains in western Mosul -- retaking key government buildings and a bridge.

It is the first time these buildings have been under Iraqi government control since Mosul -- Iraq's second largest city -- fell to ISIS in 2014. Over 70,000 people have been displaced as a result of the ongoing operation to retake Mosul and surrounding areas, according to Iraq's ministry of displacement and migration.

Related: Suspected chemical attack in Mosul - Red Cross

Residents trapped amid operation

Caught in the middle of this battle are as many as 800,000 civilians, according to the United Nations. It said UN humanitarian agencies in Iraq are preparing to aid civilians caught in the fighting.

The Iraqi Air Force has dropped millions of leaflets on western Mosul, where food and water are scarce and electricity sporadic, warning residents of the ongoing offensive and remain in their homes if they feel safe. The leaflets also advised residents to hang white flags or sheets outside their homes to indicate civilians are inside.

Related: US volunteers aid Mosul's wounded in makeshift clinic

One family in the Tayaran neighborhood couldn't leave. The grandmother is wheelchair bound; her new-born granddaughter equally vulnerable. Federal policemen came to their home to find them huddled in a back room for safety. They wheeled the old woman out into the street while another one carried the baby girl.

Iraqi forces have continued their push into Mosul's old city, an area of narrow streets and narrower allies, which forces are seeking to recapture. Officers believe Islamic State militants have dug in deep there, knocking holes between adjoining buildings to allow them maximum mobility with minimum exposure to Iraqi and US drones and aircraft. ISIS have also built a complex system of tunnels and bunkers, and no doubt will unleash even more suicide car bombs as Iraqi forces move in.

US officials believe that around half of the once-5000-strong ISIS fighters in Mosul at the beginning of the overall offensive last October have been killed or severely wounded.

But that still leaves 2,500 militants alive, and clearly many are ready to fight to the death.

Article Families caught in crossfire in western Mosul compiled by edition.cnn.com

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