MOSUL, Iraq — They came to the clinic in Humvees or beat-up cars, twisted in pain or far beyond saving. An Iraqi special forces soldier, his body gutted by an explosion. Four children with lacerated faces, survivors of a car bomb that had set their house on fire. Another soldier, who had stumbled into a booby trap, pale on his stretcher with a hole in his chest.
The luckier ones trudged past the facility in eastern Mosul, looking for shelter. “The mortars are falling,” said an elderly man, one of hundreds of people displaced by the grisly battles on this side of the city. There was no water or electricity in his neighborhood, he said, and no way to stay home.
Civilian and military casualties are mounting as misery spreads in Mosul six weeks after the Iraqi army launched an offensive to capture the city from the Islamic State. Nearly 600 civilians have been killed, according to one estimate, along with dozens of Iraq’s elite, U.S.-trained special forces soldiers — the vanguard fighters in the deadliest battle yet during Iraq’s two-year struggle to vanquish the extremists.
The carnage has slowed the army’s advance and revived debate about the wisdom of the battle plan, which envisioned Mosul’s residents sheltering in their homes — a means, it was hoped, of staving off a mass dislocation and the city’s destruction. Iraqi commanders say they are refraining from using heavier weapons to save residents’ lives, but at the cost of headway on the ground. They also say their U.S. allies are urging them to consider steps that could ease the civilian toll but also hasten a shared victory against the Islamic State in the waning days of the Obama administration — or at least show signs of progress.
Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aridhi, commander of the Iraqi special forces’ 3rd
Division, is one of the military leaders grappling with the government’s decision, as the battle got underway, to instruct Mosul’s inhabitants to stay in their homes.