Major Mosul displacement may start in coming days
UNITED NATIONS - A senior United Nations official on Monday quoted the Iraqi military as saying that large numbers of people may start fleeing fighting in the Mosul area in under a week.
Iraq announced the launch of operations to retake Mosul, the country's second city that has been held by the Islamic State group since June 2014, earlier in the day.
The UN has warned that the operation may spark a humanitarian crisis, displacing up to a million people.
"It's a trickle right now," Lise Grande, the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, told journalists, referring to displacement caused by the operation.
But "our expectation, based on what the military has briefed us, is that if we start to see significant population movements, it's likely to be within five to six days," Grande said.
"So as they're moving toward the city, there is not an expectation that we're going to have mass outflows. But the military has said that... we could see that within five to six days," she said.
According to Grande, 200,000 people being displaced "is a working scenario" for what might happen "in the first couple of weeks" -- a number that may rise significantly as the operation goes on.
IS overran Mosul and swathes of other territory in 2014 and 2015, but Iraqi forces have since regained signficant ground from the jihadists with support from a US-led coalition that is carrying out air strikes and providing other assistance.
The battle for Mosul -- which will involve a heterogenous coalition of sometimes rival forces -- is expected to be the most difficult Iraqi forces have undertaken in their more than two-year war against ISIS.