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Iraq: The Human Cost of Retaking Mosul - a new refugee exodus looms on the horizon for Turkey and EU

Iraqi and Kurdish forces will very likely prevail in their battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State, but their victory will come at a high political and humanitarian cost. In ousting the militant group, the operation in Mosul could raise Iraq's civilian casualty rate — the third-highest in the world behind those of Syria and Yemen — because of the large number of civilians who remain in the city. At the same time, the civilian presence will slow the advance of the coalition fighting to reclaim Mosul, which hopes to minimize collateral damage.

Though many of Mosul's roughly 750,000 residents will remain trapped in the city, where the Islamic State will use the civilian presence as a shield to discourage airstrikes, hundreds of thousands of others will seek refuge elsewhere. But in a region already overwhelmed with displaced people from an array of conflicts, refuge will be hard to find.

The United Nations considers the potential flow of displaced persons from Mosul, the largest city in which a campaign to oust the Islamic State has been undertaken, the year's "most complex humanitarian operation." Aid agencies have warned that the offensive to retake the city will further degrade the humanitarian situation in northern Iraq. Since the campaign began Oct. 17, families have been fleeing by the hundreds, adding to the 4 million Iraqis displaced by the Islamic State since January 2014. An estimated 200,000 people are expected to be displaced from Mosul and its environs by Oct. 28, and by the end of the battle, that number will be closer to 1 million. (Even before the offensive began, 3.3 million Iraqis remained internally displaced, while another 238,500 had fled to neighboring countries in the region.) Of these displaced persons, as well as the 1.2 million-1.5 million civilians who will be otherwise affected by the Mosul offensive, an estimated 700,000 people will need daily assistance.

Anticipating the humanitarian fallout of the Mosul operation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is leading several international aid efforts to coordinate aid response. Nonetheless, the sheer number of people leaving Mosul could overwhelm Iraq's camps, some of which are already experiencing supply problems. To tend to the needs of the displaced population, essential transportation arteries must be kept open and passable so that trucks can bring in clean water for drinking and bathing.

Food aid requires help from outside agencies, such as the World Food Program, which is already struggling to maintain its support to the 1.5 million people it currently supplies. Security concerns are also complicating the process of resettling civilians into camps, since Islamic State militants have been caught trying to hide among them. Authorities have intensified screening procedures in light of the Mosul offensive, further slowing the process.

Read More in Stratfor Analysis

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