Iraq opens new Tigris bridge escape route for people fleeing Mosul
Iraqi’s army has built a new pontoon bridge over the Tigris river south of Mosul, after flooding had blocked all crossing points, opening an escape route for families fleeing fighting between government forces and Islamic State. The city’s permanent bridges have been largely destroyed during a six-month military campaign to seize back Mosul from the Sunni Muslim Islamists, which overran it in 2014. “Everything is back to normal”, said a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. Some 20,000 people have escaped from Mosul in the past four days, fewer than before due to the lack of transport, the UNHCR said in a report. Almost 330,000 people have fled Mosul since Iraq started an operation to expel Islamic State in October. They were some of the around 400,000 people still in western Mosul where military forces are trying to dislodge the militants from the Old City. Fighting continued in the Old City where heavy smoke could be seen from the area of the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, from where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a “caliphate” spanning parts of Iraq and Syria.