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Iraqis search for loved ones at camp for displaced

KHAZIR (IRAQ) (AFP) – 

Leaning against his car, Massud Ismail Hassan peers through the chain-link fence surrounding a camp for Iraqi civilians fleeing the assault on Mosul.

He is looking for family members he has not seen for two years, since jihadists from the Islamic State group seized their village on the edge of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

Hassan says his brother, sister-in-law and their three children were finally able to flee the village, Bazwaya, as Iraqi forces advance in a major offensive to retake Mosul, IS’s last major stronghold in Iraq.

Hassan, who lives in Kurdistan, has had little contact with his brother since mid-2014 and is anxious to see him again.

“The IS men stopped them from contacting us, though sometimes they managed to get a bit far away, find a signal and quickly call us,” says Hassan, 61, dressed in traditional Kurdish garb.

Issam Saadu is also keen to see his relatives after fleeing to the camp in Khazir, about mid-way between Mosul and the Iraqi Kurdish capital Arbil.

The 22-year-old student has not seen six of his 10 siblings since the summer of 2014. He called them as soon as he arrived at the camp and was waiting for a visit.

“The jihadists accused the Kurds in villages they controlled of giving information to the peshmerga,” he says, referring to the Kurdish force that has joined Iraqi federal troops in the battle for Mosul.

Other families have already found each other, and tearful relatives clutch hands through the links of the fence, firing barrages of questions.

The peshmerga register the arrivals.

“Once all these procedures are finished we will be able to give them food and drink and blankets we brought with us,” Hassan says.

Seeing his father in the distance making his way towards the peshmerga, another man worries.

“My father is sick, I don’t even know if he’ll survive long enough for me to hug him,” he says.

The offensive, launched on October 17, is seeing tens of thousands of Iraqi fighters advancing on Mosul from the south, east and north.

The assault has so far been concentrated in towns and villages around Mosul from where thousands have been fleeing.

Iraq’s ministry of displacement and migration said Thursday that more than 11,700 people had been displaced since the operation began.

© 2016 AFP