An Iraqi and Kurdish led offensive to reclaim Mosul from ISIL militants has begun.
The assault on the city in northern Iraq got underway after official orders were given by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in the early hours of Monday morning.
He said the “heroic” operation comes after “two years of darkness” under ISIL.
Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army are supported by the US-led coalition in their operations to reclaim the city – seen as the last ISIL stronghold in the country.
The militant group swept through Iraq in 2014, capturing huge swathes of the country with astonishing speed. Now that operations to liberate Mosul are underway, it is hoped that ISIL will be routed from Iraq.
ISIL’s ‘last stand’ in Iraq
It is hoped that if the city of Mosul is reclaimed from ISIL, the group will no longer have a foothold in Iraq and will be forced to retreat.
However, many believe that if the operations are successful it is unlikely to spell the militants’ demise.
While the capture of Mosul by the group was seen as a major blow to the Iraqi central government, the city remains very much on the fringes of territory claimed by ISIL.
Across the border in Syria, much work is still needed to rout ISIL fighters from the group’s headquarters in Raqqa.
Civilians in peril
Aid groups have raised concerns for the safety of close to a million civilians still trapped in Mosul.
The United Nations have warned of a man-made humanitarian crisis unparalleled in recent times and forecast that some 700,000 people will be in need of shelter after they are displaced by the fighting, half a million of which are thought to be children.
The Iraqi army dropped leaflets on Mosul in the days preceding the assault to reclaim the city, warning residents to stay inside, avoid known ISIL positions and remain calm as operations get underway.
Many members of Mosul’s largely Sunni population are also fearing hostility from Shiite militias during the operations.
Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi assured citizens that only the Iraqi army and police will be involved in the liberation.
However, on Saturday editor-in-chief of a newspaper in Kirkuk Güngör Yavuzaslan told euronews that there are many Shiite soldiers and police officers within the Iraqi military.
He said: “The important question is: Will these young soldiers stick to their military duties, or act on sectarian principles.”
Serious ‘lack of funding’
A lack of adequate funding means that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) can only provide temporary accommodation for 20,000 families – or 120,000 people.
Other groups working with the agency say that they can provide a further 50,000 families with shelter.
A UN spokesperson said that five new permanent camps will be constructed by the end of the month, and a further 20 emergency camps will be built close to Mosul.
Emergency shelter kits will be handed out when tents are not available in the camps.