Via The New Yorker: The Coming Crisis in Mosul. Excerpt:
A humanitarian catastrophe is looming over northern Iraq. As many as a million people are expected to stream out of Mosul when Iraqi government forces, backed by the United States, move to retake the city from isis, which took control two years ago. The much anticipated military operation could begin as early as next month, but aid workers here say they do not have anywhere near the resources, money, or manpower to deal with the expected human tide.
“It’s a nightmare—a disaster heading our way,’’ Alex Milutinovic, the director of the International Rescue Committee in Erbil, told me. “The Iraqi government is determined to destroy isis, but it is impossible to accommodate the number of refugees the military operation is going to produce.”
The Iraqi and American governments have been planning to retake Mosul since isis invaded the country and captured the city, in 2014. The reasons for doing so are obvious and urgent: the people of Mosul are being held hostage by violent fanatics; last month, according to the Iraq Oil Report, which has correspondents inside the city, isis agents arrested ninety people on charges of spying for the Iraqi government and executed sixty of them.
Once the military operation begins, it’s possible that isis fighters will block civilians from fleeing and use them as human shields. But, ultimately, much of Mosul is likely to be destroyed. Without proper preparation, the invasion could resemble the ends of the first Gulf War or the Rwandan civil war, both in the nineteen-nineties, both of which produced hundreds of thousands of refugees, and immense suffering.
Aid workers have communicated their alarm to Iraqi and American commanders, but preparations for the offensive continue apace. In a joint appearance at the United Nations with President Obama this week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he expected military operations to begin as soon as late October. Abadi and other Iraqi officials have either brushed off concerns about refugees and civilian deaths or given blithe assurances that everything will be fine.
“The capture of Mosul will be finished in record-breaking time,” General Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for the Iraqi Army, told the Financial Times recently.
At the Debaga refugee camp outside of Erbil, you can glimpse a future that may be in the works. The camp is one of many spread across Iraqi Kurdistan, where a million and a half refugees from other parts of Iraq and from Syria are gathered in tents, schools, and mosques. Aid workers say that half of them are children.
The Debaga complex, spread across a rolling field of pasture and sand, was designed to accommodate twenty-eight thousand people. Today, it has nearly forty thousand, with desperate families who have fled the fighting turning up every day.