The operation to retake west Mosul — which the helicopter was supporting when it was downed — has become a slow, grinding battle that has taken a heavy toll on civilians and pushed more than 200,000 to flee.
“The helicopter was supporting federal police forces in (west Mosul) and was hit by fire and crashed in the Mohandiseen neighborhood in east Mosul,” Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, said.
The city is divided by the Tigris River. East Mosul was recaptured earlier this year, but Daesh still holds significant ground on the city’s western side.
Federal police are operating alongside Interior Ministry special forces in Mosul’s Old City — a densely populated warren of narrow streets and closely spaced buildings that is home to hundreds of thousands of people.
Rasool said the US-made Bell helicopter crashed about 3 p.m. (1200 GMT) on Thursday, and that he believed it was hit by 57 mm anti-aircraft fire.
Rasool also said Thursday that Iraqi forces had recaptured a west Mosul neighborhood called Yarmuk Al-Thaniya.
The fighting in west Mosul has forced up to 15,000 people to flee their homes every day recently, straining humanitarian resources and leaving many in very difficult conditions.
At the Hammam Al-Alil camp for the displaced south of Mosul, hundreds of haggard-looking civilians spill out of buses escorted by the security forces all day long.
The camp is a screening site and a gateway for some who will then board other buses and taxis to look for accommodation in other camps or with relatives in “liberated” east Mosul and neighboring areas.
But others, often among the most needy, stay at the camp and move into tents with relatives or neighbors, sometimes three or four families crammed into the same 10-meter by 4-meter tent.
“There are four families in this tent, about 30 people sleep in it,” said Marwan Nayef, a 25-year-old from west Mosul, as a dozen children stood around him or peeped from behind the tent’s tarpaulin door.
“Sometimes, it’s not big enough so the men go to sleep in a friend’s tent. I’m currently sleeping in my brother’s tent,” he said.
A few alleys down in the camp, whose population has soared to around 30,000, Shahra Hazem holds her 16-month-old hydrocephalic son in her arms.
“He needs an operation, there’s water in his head, but there is just no help available. I tried to take him to another camp but they wouldn’t let us in,” she said.
According to the UN, at least 400,000 people have been displaced since the Mosul operation began on Oct. 17.
The majority of those who had to flee their homes did so during the most recent phase of the operation, which started on Feb. 19 in the half of the city that lies west of the Tigris river.
In the Hammam Al-Alil camp, massive queues of civilians form at midday to receive a helping of rice and sauce from a catering tent, many of them barefooted children who then sit on the gravel to devour their ration.
Some fetch food from outside the camp, others from an informal market that opened on the other side of the fence.
A woman carrying her daughter ran into neighbors from Mosul and told them of how she and her family survived an airstrike that demolished their house.
“Daesh set up a machine gun position in front of our door so the security forces fired back ... Luckily, we were all on the ground floor,” said the woman, wearing a bright green dress.
“Some of our neighbors tried to flee yesterday and the security forces shot at them because they thought they were with Daesh. This is happening a lot,” she said.-ARAB nEWS