The United Nations says an estimated 700,000 people would need assistance once a looming military operation to liberate Mosul, which is Iraq's second-largest city and the main stronghold of the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group in the crisis-hit Arab country, gets underway.
Bruno Geddo, the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Iraq, told reporters in the Swiss city of Geneva on Thursday that the expected offensive on Mosul, located some 400 kilometers north of the capital Baghdad, “has the potential" to displace over a million people.
The Iraqi government has pledged to retake the city this year but has not yet announced a date for the launch of the campaign.
“We are planning for at least 700,000 who will be in need of assistance, shelter food, [and] water" following the operation, the UNHCR pointed out.
Geddo further noted that the UN refugee agency had already begun building camps in preparation for a mass exodus from Mosul, but it faced constraints in erecting them in time and winning full funding for its plans.
The UN agency is hoping to have 11 camps finished by the end of the year with the capacity to hold 120,000 people, while Iraqi authorities expect to be able to house 150,000 more, he explained.
Geddo stated that Daesh has resorted to tactics like using civilians as human shields, calling for sustained international support to help the Baghdad government overcome the Takfiri militant group and stabilize the war-ravaged country.
“This war now, 2016-2017, might with luck mark a turning point for the country,” he said.
“The international community should not succumb to fatigue, should stay the course, should continue to support Iraq as much as we can, so that Iraq can mark the turning point,” Geddo said.
For months, Iraq has been preparing for the assault on Daesh in Mosul, which slipped into the hands of the terrorists in the summer of 2014. Government forces have managed to recapture all the other places that Daesh had seized, with the last major one being the city of Fallujah, which was liberated in late June.
The operation for Mosul is highly significant as estimates say about half of the city’s pre-war population of two million still remains there. Daesh, based on intelligence information, has reportedly between 4,000 and 5,000 terrorists in the city, making the situation more complicated.
Violence has plagued the northern and western parts of Iraq ever since Daesh mounted an offensive there more than two years ago, and took control of portions of Iraqi territory.
Iraqi army soldiers and fighters from allied Popular Mobilization Units are seeking to win back militant-held regions in joint operations.