MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — “We have wounded!” the men shouted from the roadside. Two soldiers, bleeding, were being bandaged beside their smoking vehicle on the side of a dusty dirt road.
Iraqi special forces Maj. Saif Ali yelled to his driver to stop and leaped out. “Put one inside and the other on top!” he called to his men. One was put in Ali’s seat, the other laid on the vehicle’s hood. “Go!” he shouted, crouching on the hood next to the wounded man. His driver blared the horn and the gunner shot into the air trying to clear a way through a sea of fleeing civilians and livestock.
As Iraqi forces push deeper into western Mosul, the assault is bringing a surge of casualties — at least 30 Iraqi security forces and more than 200 civilians killed or wounded in the last three days. Iraq’s military does not release official casualty reports, but medics at front-line clinics provided figures on condition of anonymity.
The sudden spike in casualty numbers mirrors what played out in Mosul’s east as the fight moved from rural villages to dense urban areas. Front-line medic stations that stood empty for the first days of the assault on Mosul’s west announced last week, are now overflowing. At one clinic Sunday, the dead had to be moved to the ground to free up beds as more injured arrived.
The soldiers that Maj. Ali picked up had been wounded when a mortar — fired from districts held by the Islamic State group — hit them along a route used by the thousands of civilians fleeing Mosul on foot in the days after Iraqi forces first punched into Mamun neighborhood on Friday.
Ali had been on his way back to base after a quick visit to the edge of Mamun neighborhood. Now he was gripping the grate of his Humvee, using his own weight to keep the wounded man from sliding off the hood.
In the front passenger seat, the other soldier — with a head wound — sat with his eyes wide open and glassy. Everyone inside the vehicle rode in almost complete silence as Ali and his gunner shouted…