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In Iraq, fewer refugees than expected from Mosul push: US

WASHINGTON (AFP) – 

The offensive to seize Mosul, the Islamic State group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, has resulted in fewer refugees than expected so far, US government officials said Monday.

Since the beginning of the US-backed Iraqi forces’ advance three weeks ago, the fighting has displaced “just over 33,000 people,” a US official said in a conference call with reporters.

“That is lower than initially expected, but it’s important to keep in mind that the Iraq security forces still have not reached the most populous areas,” he added.

Iraq’s second-largest city has been an IS group stronghold since June 2014. At least one million people are believed trapped by the fighting, but it is impossible to verify the number after Mosul’s more than two years under the jihadists’ control.

The United Nations, the Iraqi government, nonprofit organizations and the US government have mounted a massive effort to help the refugees.

Some 50 trucks a day have been bringing food and other supplies to the Mosul region for the past several weeks to prepare for a flood of refugees, the official said.

Humanitarian agencies estimate as many as 700,000 people will flee the fighting.

Refugee camps currently have 80,000 places ready, with the aim of preparing a total of 250,000 by mid-December, US officials told reporters.

“This situation may be one of the best-prepared responses to a humanitarian emergency… that we have seen certainly in a long time,” another US official said on the call.

Some of the Mosul refugees will find shelter with relatives and not need to go to the camps, humanitarian groups say.

Around half of the refugees have found their own shelter so far, US officials said.

© 2016 AFP