Iraq Launches Military Offensive To Retake Mosul From ISIS; Up To 1 Million Refugees Expected

Moments ago, Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi publicly announced the start of an offensive to retake Mosul, the capital of Islamic State's caliphate in Iraq. US troops are said to be playing a "supporting role" in the offensive, with the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters making up the bulk of the 30,000-strong force.

Washington recently announced the deployment of 600 additional US troops to help with the city's recapture, bringing the total number of US force management personnel to move than 5,000, according to the Pentagon.

"The hour has come and the moment of great victory is near," Prime Minister el-Abadi said in a speech on state TV, surrounded by the armed forces' top commanders. "I announce today the start of the operation to liberate the province of Nineveh."

The assault on Mosul is backed the U.S.-led coalition and could be one be the biggest military operations in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.It is expected to last several weeks if not longer.

"We are proud to stand with you in this historic operation," Brett McGurk, U.S. envoy to the coalition against Islamic State, said on Twitter at the start of the Mosul offensive.

Mosul is the last major stronghold of ultra-hardline Sunni group in Iraq. With a pre-war population of around 2 million, the northern Iraqi city is the largest city Islamic State has controlled after it declared a "caliphate" in Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014.

The launch of the offensive does not come as a surprise to anyone, and certainly not ISIS, after leaflets declaring "Victory Time" were dumped over the city on Sunday. Local media outlets reported earlier over the weekend that the Iraqi army and allied militiamen may start the offensive against the ISIS “capital” in Iraq on Monday. The International Red Cross warned the move could create a million refugees.

The operation to drive Islamic State out of Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul was due to start “early on Monday,” Sky News Arabia reported citing sources in Iraqi Kurdistan. Similar reports have been filed by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency, citing Iraqi government sources. The action is set to be backed by the US-led anti-IS coalition. However according to RIA, which cited a military source, the operation might be delayed, since the terrorists are now allegedly aware of the exact plan. The jihadists have hence “booby trapped roads” to Mosul forcing the Iraqi military to change plans, the source adds.

But the biggest question is where will the up to 1 million refugees go. Around half of the city's original population of more than 2 million remain in Mosul, and most of them could flee once fighting begins, which would create another refugee crisis and what one representative has called "one of the largest man-made displacement crises of recent times," according to CNN.

Camps are reportedly being set up to accommodate those who leave the city.