The U.S.-backed Iraqi operation to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State could displace another 1 million people in Iraq, triggering a new migrant crisis.
The U.S. anti-ISIS coalition has focused the majority of its resources in Iraq on slowly retaking ISIS-held towns, with little regard for the humanitarian fallout.
“Almost every victory is accompanied by a simultaneous humanitarian crisis,” the United Nations’ chief humanitarian aid official in Iraq told The Washington Post. “The military campaign is going to take off soon, and on the humanitarian side we aren’t yet ready.”
“There will soon be the main attack [on Mosul],” French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian indicated to reporters Friday. Drian’s comments confirm hints from the U.S. and Iraqi forces that the push on Mosul will begin in mid-October.
The UN faces a $165 million shortfall to provide even the most basic humanitarian assistance, and is reportedly only going to be able to build four standard refugee camps. The four camps will have a maximum capacity of 280,000, hardly a fourth of the expected refugees spawned by the Mosul operation.
ISIS seized Mosul in 2014, stunning the world and triggering an uptick in U.S. operations against the terrorist group. ISIS has used the last two years to heavily entrench themselves in the city, booby-trapping vulnerable positions, and gearing up suicide bombers. ISIS’s entrenchment will likely require significant destruction of the city during military operations, further displacing Mosul residents.
The UN estimates nearly 1.5 million people remain inside the city of Mosul, with many on the outskirts already fleeing the violence. The Iraqi military is dropping leaflets on the city asking residents to remain in their homes, a departure from their normal request for civilians to evacuate a city before trying to retake it.
Even if the U.S.-backed operation to retake Mosul succeeds, the political situation in Iraq remains highly charged. Many of the forces participating in operations to retake Mosul, are Iranian-backed sectarian militias. The other forces are Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which have signaled a desire for complete autonomy from the Baghdad-led government. These militias are definitively tied to sectarian atrocities in the aftermath of the U.S. backed effort to retake the city of Fallujah.
Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus warned in August the biggest challenge in Iraq is not the defeat of ISIS, but “to ensure post-conflict security, reconstruction and, above all, governance that is representative of and responsive to the people.” He continued that failure to deal with sectarian grievances could lead to “ISIS 3.0.”
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