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Iraqi families wait with their belongings outside a displacement camp in Hamam Alil, south of Mosul, on Thursday, March 9, 2017, where crowds of civilians gathered to be screened and housed after fleeing western districts of Mosul.
Iraqi families wait with their belongings outside a displacement camp in Hamam Alil, south of Mosul, on Thursday, March 9, 2017, where crowds of civilians gathered to be screened and housed after fleeing western districts of Mosul. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Iraqi families wait with their belongings outside a displacement camp in Hamam Alil, south of Mosul, on Thursday, March 9, 2017, where crowds of civilians gathered to be screened and housed after fleeing western districts of Mosul.
Iraqi families wait with their belongings outside a displacement camp in Hamam Alil, south of Mosul, on Thursday, March 9, 2017, where crowds of civilians gathered to be screened and housed after fleeing western districts of Mosul. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
An Iraqi boy flashes a peace sign while selling chips outside a displacement camp in Hama Alil on Thursday, March 9, 2017. Thousands of Iraqis are fleeing Mosul daily as government forces battle Islamic State fighters for control of the city's western districts. The Iraqis declared the half of the city east of the Tigris River liberated in late January.
An Iraqi boy flashes a peace sign while selling chips outside a displacement camp in Hama Alil on Thursday, March 9, 2017. Thousands of Iraqis are fleeing Mosul daily as government forces battle Islamic State fighters for control of the city's western districts. The Iraqis declared the half of the city east of the Tigris River liberated in late January. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Crowds of Iraqi civilians gather in Hamam Alil on Thursday, March 9, 2017, outside a camp for people fleeing the battle for Mosul to the north. More than 250,000 civilians have fled the city since the U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive to retake the city began in October.
Crowds of Iraqi civilians gather in Hamam Alil on Thursday, March 9, 2017, outside a camp for people fleeing the battle for Mosul to the north. More than 250,000 civilians have fled the city since the U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive to retake the city began in October. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
An Iraqi woman carries a child outside a camp for the displaced residents of Mosul on Thursday, March 9, 2017.
An Iraqi woman carries a child outside a camp for the displaced residents of Mosul on Thursday, March 9, 2017. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Families fleeing the battle for Mosul wait in trucks outside a camp for displaced Iraqis south of the city on Thursday, March 9, 2017. Thousands of civilians were staying in the camp, but many families were being screened for ties to the Islamic State group before being allowed to flee further from the city.
Families fleeing the battle for Mosul wait in trucks outside a camp for displaced Iraqis south of the city on Thursday, March 9, 2017. Thousands of civilians were staying in the camp, but many families were being screened for ties to the Islamic State group before being allowed to flee further from the city. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
On the outskirts of Mosul, a woman holds her ill infant, who was receiving intravenous fluids, while waiting for transportation to a displacement camp south of the city on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
On the outskirts of Mosul, a woman holds her ill infant, who was receiving intravenous fluids, while waiting for transportation to a displacement camp south of the city on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Civilians fleeing Mosul are taking what they can carry. This boy and man, pictured on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, each carried birds with them as they escaped the city to a pick-up point near the Mosul Airport where Iraqi police were ushering displaced Iraqis onto vans, buses and trucks taking them to processing areas south of the city.
Civilians fleeing Mosul are taking what they can carry. This boy and man, pictured on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, each carried birds with them as they escaped the city to a pick-up point near the Mosul Airport where Iraqi police were ushering displaced Iraqis onto vans, buses and trucks taking them to processing areas south of the city. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
An Iraqi girl waits with her family on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, after they had fled their Mosul neighborhood seeking safety away from where Iraqi military and police are battling the Islamic State for control of the city.
An Iraqi girl waits with her family on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, after they had fled their Mosul neighborhood seeking safety away from where Iraqi military and police are battling the Islamic State for control of the city. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Iraqis stream out of western Mosul districts on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
Iraqis stream out of western Mosul districts on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Iraqi children displaced from their homes in Mosul by fighting pose for a photo near the Mosul airport on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. The children and their families were awaiting transportation to a camp south of the city where people were being screened for Islamic State ties and given food and shelter.
Iraqi children displaced from their homes in Mosul by fighting pose for a photo near the Mosul airport on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. The children and their families were awaiting transportation to a camp south of the city where people were being screened for Islamic State ties and given food and shelter. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
A man and a girl carry bags full of their belongings as they walk toward a truck that will take them to a displacement camp on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Civilians fleeing violence in Mosul, Iraq were being packed into vehicles and taken to screening points, then on to the camps. Thousands are fleeing each day as fighting intensifies in the western half of the city.
A man and a girl carry bags full of their belongings as they walk toward a truck that will take them to a displacement camp on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Civilians fleeing violence in Mosul, Iraq were being packed into vehicles and taken to screening points, then on to the camps. Thousands are fleeing each day as fighting intensifies in the western half of the city. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Women and children wait for transportation to camps for people displaced from Mosul, Iraq, on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
Women and children wait for transportation to camps for people displaced from Mosul, Iraq, on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
A family fleeing the violence in Mosul, Iraq wait near the city's airport for transportation to a displacement camp on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
A family fleeing the violence in Mosul, Iraq wait near the city's airport for transportation to a displacement camp on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Families fleeing violence in Mosul, Iraq stream over a hill near the city's airport, where Iraqi military and police officials were waiting to pack them onto buses and trucks to be taken to a displacement camp south of the city on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.
Families fleeing violence in Mosul, Iraq stream over a hill near the city's airport, where Iraqi military and police officials were waiting to pack them onto buses and trucks to be taken to a displacement camp south of the city on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
This boy, pictured on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, flees Mosul with his family, as Iraqi security forces assist an elderly woman in a wheel chair. Thousands of Iraqis are escaping the city, taking what they can carry, as Iraqi forces fight to retake it from the Islamic State, which has held it since summer 2014.
This boy, pictured on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, flees Mosul with his family, as Iraqi security forces assist an elderly woman in a wheel chair. Thousands of Iraqis are escaping the city, taking what they can carry, as Iraqi forces fight to retake it from the Islamic State, which has held it since summer 2014. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
A man escaping Mosul, Iraq on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, brought a cage full of pigeons with him. Others brought livestock, including a sheep. Some people fleeing fighting in the city made it out only with the clothes on their backs.
A man escaping Mosul, Iraq on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, brought a cage full of pigeons with him. Others brought livestock, including a sheep. Some people fleeing fighting in the city made it out only with the clothes on their backs. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Iraqis fleeing violence in Mosul gather at a mosque on the north end of the city's airport on Thursday, March 9, 2017. Many took what they could carry, while some used push carts to bring their possessions out of the city to a point where they were being loaded onto trucks to be taken for processing and eventually to a displacement camp.
Iraqis fleeing violence in Mosul gather at a mosque on the north end of the city's airport on Thursday, March 9, 2017. Many took what they could carry, while some used push carts to bring their possessions out of the city to a point where they were being loaded onto trucks to be taken for processing and eventually to a displacement camp. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)
Pictured here are some of the roughly 100 Iraqi civilians who fled Mosul on the Mosul-Baghdad Highway on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, as Iraqi troops prepared to advance on the Mosul neighborhood of Wadi Hajar. About 10,000 civilians have been displaced since fighting began in western Mosul on Feb. 19, in addition to more than 200,000 displaced when the offensive began in eastern Mosul on Oct. 17, 2016.
Pictured here are some of the roughly 100 Iraqi civilians who fled Mosul on the Mosul-Baghdad Highway on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, as Iraqi troops prepared to advance on the Mosul neighborhood of Wadi Hajar. About 10,000 civilians have been displaced since fighting began in western Mosul on Feb. 19, in addition to more than 200,000 displaced when the offensive began in eastern Mosul on Oct. 17, 2016. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

MOSUL, Iraq — Civilians have been streaming out of western Mosul districts, some with just the clothes on their backs. Others carried suitcases, shopping bags or trashcan liners full of possessions. Some pushed carts ahead of them or pull their livestock behind them.

As the battle for Iraq’s second-largest city and the Islamic State group’s last urban bastion enters its sixth month, more than 60,000 Mosul residents have managed to escape their embattled neighborhoods in the past two weeks.

Mothers and fathers carried sick children, and family members pushed the elderly in wheel chairs. Others walked for hours after Iraqi forces recaptured their neighborhoods — some said the journey took days because they stopped on the way to shelter for several nights.

Despite bomb blasts, repeated bursts of rapid gunfire and helicopter gunships strafing and rocketing targets in the city, civilians have trudged to areas where government troops load them onto vans, buses and trucks to take them to screening areas.

In September, the United Nations had estimated that as many as 1 million civilians could flee as government forces advance to retake the entire city from the militants, but so far the numbers have been more modest. A trickle that began in October, however, has built considerable momentum since mid-February, when the security forces began an offensive to take Mosul’s western half.

Some 250,000 Iraqis have been displaced from their homes since the operation to liberate Mosul began in mid-October, according to the International Organization for Migration. Most of them are living in sprawling camps or other emergency sites and relief workers are readying new camps to house even more.

Last week, hundreds of Iraqis gathered outside a displacement camp south of Mosul. Some had waited hours or days for tents, they said. Others were waiting to be screened so they could go further south of the city to live with family or in other arrangements.

On Sunday, an additional 6,000 plots, each of which can support six displaced people, had been made available for newly arrived people from western Mosul, said Iyad Nasr, a United Nations spokesman in Iraq.

More than one-third of the displaced have fled since the campaign for the half of the city west of the Tigris River began a month ago. Some who fled the combat in now liberated eastern half of the city have begun returning to their homes, despite a lack of drinking water and electricity.

The militants are using the as many as 600,000 civilians who remain in the city as human shields, say those who have managed to flee. The jihadis are fighting from within civilian homes, then fleeing, but not before drawing fire from Iraqi forces and coalition aircraft supporting them.

U.S. soldiers at Qayara West Airfield on Friday said they’ve personally seen Islamic State fighters using civilians for cover, but that coalition forces use extreme care to avoid civilian casualties.

Life for civilians remaining in the city is hard with no water and very little food, said a man fleeing the Mansour neighborhood last week who gave his name as Makhmoud.

The fighters who remain in Mosul are likely preparing to resist to the end in the city where their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the group’s so-called caliphate in the summer of 2014. Iraqi and U.S. officials have said those still in city’s western districts are trapped and will probably die there.

Mohammed Akhmed, who fled his neighborhood in Wadi Hajar with his wife and five children last week, said he was nearly killed when the Islamic State began murdering government workers, but he hid from them.

But not all Mosul residents are fleeing. Fallah Hussein was staying in his neighborhood north of the Mosul Airport, which was freed by the Iraqi Federal Police last week.

“We were like dead, and we just came back to life,” he said. He said he had been a government worker, too. “Don’t tell [Islamic State],” he said, drawing a finger across his throat.

For some families in this neighborhood, leaving carries its own risks. Some of Hussein’s neighbors said they were afraid to leave their homes for fear that they would be looted or destroyed. They had drinking water, some said, and others walked past carrying food the police units had given them. Down the street a few ran generators for electricity.

Holding his 2-year-old son in his arms, Hussein said he feared for his adult son, who fled before the government offensive began. The 18-year-old called once when he got out of the city, saying he was planning on joining a militia to fight the Islamic State, but he hasn’t been heard from since.

garland.chad@stripes.com Twitter: @chadgarland

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Chad is a Marine Corps veteran who covers the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. An Illinois native who’s reported for news outlets in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Oregon and California, he’s an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University.
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