UPDATE: 07:47 a.m. EDT – As Iraq launched its offensive to drive out the Islamic State group from Mosul, the country's second largest city, the United Nations Refugee Agency said Monday that it expected at least 100,000 people to flee the city.
The UNHCR said Iraqis are likely to flee to Turkey and Syria, and requested an additional funding of $61 million so the agency could provide camps, winter items and stoves for the displaced people.
“Preparedness plans are underway in Syria to receive up to 90,000 Iraqi refugees,” the agency reportedly said.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday that the country is determined to be part of the latest anti-ISIS military operations announced earlier in the day, according to the Associated Press. The president added that he feared the offensive could lead to sectarian clashes in the Iraqi city.
Erdoğan said Turkey will not allow “a Sunni-Shiite strife” in Mosul once the city is free of ISIS, and insisted that Turkey “will be in the [Mosul] operation and we will be at the table. It is not possible for us to stay outside.”
UPDATE: 5:24 a.m. EDT -- Seven villages previously under the control of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, have been liberated by Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, the Associated Press reported Monday, citing Turkey’s state-run media.
The troops have also reportedly taken control of the main road linking Mosul to the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital, Irbil. The report added that two would-be suicide bombers affiliated to ISIS were “neutralized” during the ongoing military operations against the group.
The Anadolu Agency, citing a press officer in Irbil, said the seven villages liberated so far include Tercele, Basahra, Little Bedene, Great Bedene, Kebervi, Baskelan and Sheikh Emir. The villages are located east of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, which has been under ISIS control since June 2014.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's minister for foreign affairs, called the offensive “a turning point” in the fight against ISIS. The liberation of Mosul would provide “an opportunity for stabilization of Iraq,” he added.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said early Monday the country would begin military operations to liberate the city of Mosul from the Islamic State terrorist group, also called ISIS. This is Iraq’s most ambitious campaign since U.S. troops left five years ago.
State media aired a brief statement featuring the prime minister, dressed in the uniform of the elite counterterrorism troops while flanked by senior military officers. The announcement of the battle to drive ISIS out of Iraq’s second-largest city was widely anticipated. Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad, has been under ISIS control since June 2014.
“These forces that are liberating you today, they have one goal in Mosul which is to get rid of Daesh and to secure your dignity. They are there for your sake,” he reportedly said using the Arabic acronym for the terrorist outfit. “God willing, we shall win.”
“We will meet soon on the ground of Mosul to celebrate liberation and your salvation,” he added.
At least 30,000 soldiers from the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga militia and Sunni tribal fighters are to take part in this offensive against an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 ISIS fighters. A U.S.-led coalition will carry out airstrikes and offer artillery fire. American soldiers are also providing logistical support, Brig. Gen Haider Fadhil told the Associated Press.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the military operations announced Monday was a “decisive moment” that could deliver “a lasting defeat” to ISIS.
“The United States and the rest of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga fighters and the people of Iraq in the difficult fight ahead. We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL's hatred and brutality,” he said in a statement.
The United Nation estimates that this operation could render nearly one million homeless, further worsening the humanitarian situation in the country. Most of the 3.3 million displaced due to the Iraqi conflict currently stay in camps and settlements.
U.N. Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O'Brien in a statement late Sunday raised his concerns for the 1.5 million people living in Mosul.
“I renew my call on all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they are entitled to and deserve. Nothing is more important,” he said. “Humanitarian partners will be doing everything possible to support the people who may be displaced and affected by this military operation.”
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin also added Sunday that he hoped the U.S. and its allies would do their best to avoid civilian causalities during their operations in Mosul.