Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, on Monday said that the nation’s forces have launched a campaign to retake Mosul, the self-declared capital of the IS. Artillery began firing on the city early on Monday, in a long-awaited assault from Kurdish Peshmerga, Iraqi government and allied forces. Tanks are also moving towards the city, which has been held by the IS since 2014.
“Today I declare the start of these victorious operations to free you from the violence and terrorism of Daesh,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised address.
The US-led coalition is backing the assault with air strikes. The operation is complex and analysts say it could last for weeks, if not months, reports BBC.
The recapture of the city, capital of the northern Nineveh governorate, would mark the effective defeat of IS in Iraq, officials say. It was from Mosul that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate – a state governed in accordance with Islamic law – in territory controlled by the group in Iraq and Syria.
UN deputy Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Stephen O’Brien said civilians in the city were in real danger.
“I am extremely concerned for the safety of up to 1.5 million people living in Mosul who may be impacted by military operations to retake the city from ISIL,” he said.
“Depending on the intensity and scope of the fighting, as many as one million people may be forced to flee their homes in a worst-case scenario,” O’Brien said in a statement.
Children and elderly are among those at greatest risk.
“Tens of thousands of Iraqi girls, boys, women and men may be under siege or held as human shields. Thousands may be forcibly expelled or trapped between the fighting lines,” O’Brien added.