Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at the Debaga camp, Kurdistan Region.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – UN relief organizations are expecting a deluge of refugees fleeing Mosul in the wake of an anticipated offensive to liberate the city from the Islamic State (ISIS), but some observers believe that many residents will stay put inside the city during the battle.
Beriwan Khailany, an MP in the Iraqi parliament and member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), believes that most Mosul residents – or Moslawis -- will try their best not to abandon their homes.
“People from Mosul love their city. They think if they leave they mightn’t ever be able to return and resettle,” she told Rudaw English. “They would rather risk death than leave and lose their homes and livelihoods.”
“The concept of ‘home’ in Mosul goes beyond the mere house," Rasha al-Aqeedi, a fellow at the Al Mesbar Studies and Research Center in Dubai, who is a native of Mosul, told Rudaw English.
Al-Aqeedi is also doubtful that the majority of Moslawis will leave the city, reasoning that aside from the attachment they have to their homeland they would likely find it very difficult to cover the distance needed to escape that war zone.
"Most neighborhoods alongside Mosul’s west and east sides are significantly far from the closest KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) checkpoints," she explained. "It would take days to reach them on foot, all while being potential targets for either ISIS or the coalition."
"People in areas closest to Erbil or Duhok might attempt to leave, but those living in central Mosul will find it hard," she added. "If it were possible to leave, the numbers fleeing Mosul would be higher. The farthest I believe families will go is perhaps cross the bridges to whichever side of the city is being attacked less."
"It's frustrating to know the liberating army hasn't yet grasped the entire context after two years," she remarked.
Khailany also pointed out that if the local people do not flee ahead of the upcoming offensive they need to at least coordinate with it against ISIS.
“We need the help of local people to support the army; if they don’t, then it will be very difficult. In Anbar many people left their areas before they were recaptured, and were seen by the Iraqis as supporting their efforts to force out the militants,” she said.
“In Mosul, if they stay they might be seen as supporting Daesh (ISIS), even though they might be forced to stay by Daesh, who shoot people that try to leave. Iraqi aircraft are dropping flyers warning people to leave if possible. If they don’t, there will likely be more civilian casualties and much more damage done in this operation,” she reasoned.
Last month Iraqi aircraft dropped millions of flyers over Mosul, warning its residents of an imminent operation and warning them to avoid areas occupied by the militants and to cooperate with the incoming Iraqi Army.
Dylan O'Driscoll, a senior fellow at the Middle East Research Institute (MERI), believes that neither Iraq nor the coalition have made the sufficient preparations and planning needed to execute a swift and decisive operation.
"You can't have another situation like in Fallujah where people essentially tried to determine who was a member of ISIS with no proper criteria, you can't just ask, 'Whoever is a member of ISIS put up your hand,'" he told Rudaw English.
O'Driscoll explained that it is very hard to determine ahead of time how many people in Mosul will stay, stay and fight for ISIS or leave altogether if they can.
"I think some people will work with them, we've seen this already. It also depends when it happens. We have rough dates, estimated dates and dates that certain leaders tell us about. But we don't have exact dates so what are they going to do until then?" he said.
"It's important that you demonstrate that some structure is in place, I think. Some people will definitely work with the army, whether the people are against and how you differentiate whether they are working against the army or whether they were always part of ISIS," he added.