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Mosul offensive: Desperate Iraqis paying up to $1,000 to flee Isis stronghold as assault begins

Published 17/10/2016

Iraqi forces deploy in the area of al-Shourah, some 45 kms south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it from the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi forces deploy in the area of al-Shourah, some 45 kms south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it from the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Kurdish security forces take up a position as they fight overlooking the Islamic State-controlled in villages surrounding Mosul, in Khazer, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition air and ground support, launched coordinated military operations early on Monday as the long-awaited fight to wrest the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters got underway.(AP Photo)
Smoke rises from Islamic state positions after an airstrike by coalition forces in villages surrounding Mosul, in Khazer, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition air and ground support, launched coordinated military operations early on Monday as the long-awaited fight to wrest the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters got underway.(AP Photo)
A peshmerga convoy drives towards a frontline in Khazer, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. The Iraqi military and the country's Kurdish forces say they launched operations to the south and east of militant-held Mosul early Monday morning. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
A Kurdish peshmerga fighter prays on the frontline during the battle against the Islamic State group as Kurdish forces advance towards villages surrounding Mosul on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. The Iraqi military and the country's Kurdish forces say they launched operations to the south and east of militant-held Mosul early Monday morning. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
A peshmerga convoy drives towards a frontline in Khazer, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. The Iraqi military and the country's Kurdish forces say they launched operations to the south and east of militant-held Mosul early Monday morning. (AP Photo/Bram Janssen)
A peshmerga convoy drives towards a frontline in Khazer, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition air and ground support, launched coordinated military operations early on Monday as the long-awaited fight to wrest the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters got underway.(AP Photo)
A picture taken from the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, shows smoke billowing on the outskirts of the Iraqi city of Nineveh, during an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqis gather at the site of a car bomb explosion targeting an Iraqi army checkpoint in Yusufiya, south of the capital Baghdad, on October 17, 2016. The attack came just hours after Iraqi forces launched an offensive to retake second city Mosul, in the north of the country, from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SABAH ARARSABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
A member of the Iraqi government forces looks at a damaged vehicle at the site of car bomb explosion targeting an Iraqi army checkpoint in Yusufiya, south of the capital Baghdad, on October 17, 2016. The attack came just hours after Iraqi forces launched an offensive to retake second city Mosul, in the north of the country, from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SABAH ARARSABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi government forces stand next to a damaged vehicle at the site of car bomb explosion targeting an Iraqi army checkpoint in Yusufiya, south of the capital Baghdad, on October 17, 2016. The attack came just hours after Iraqi forces launched an offensive to retake second city Mosul, in the north of the country, from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SABAH ARARSABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters fire a mortar shell from the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, as they take part in an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters deploy on the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, as they take part in an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - A picture taken from the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, shows Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters watching smoke billowing in the Iraqi city of Nineveh, during an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - A picture taken from the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, shows smoke billowing in the Iraqi city of Nineveh, during an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters fire a multiple rocket launcher from the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, as they take part in an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters fire a multiple rocket launcher from the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, as they take part in an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters hold a position on the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, as they take part in an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken from the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, shows smoke billowing in the Iraqi city of Nineveh, during an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters arrange boxes with mortar shells on the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, as they take part in an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters deploy on the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, as they take part in an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter holds a rocket on the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, as he takes part in an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Iraqi forces deploy in the area of al-Shourah, some 45 kms south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it from the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced earlier in the day that the long-awaited operation to recapture Mosul was under way. / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYEAHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Iraqi forces gather at the Qayyarah military base, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) south of Mosul, on October 16, 2016, as they prepare for an offensive to retake Mosul, the last IS-held city in the country, after regaining much of the territory the jihadists seized in 2014 and 2015. / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYEAHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
A handout picture release by Save The Children shows Ali, a five-year-old displaced Iraqi boy playing as they wait to be screened at the Dibis checkpoint northwest of the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on October 16, 2016 after they fled the Islamic State (IS) group held Hawijah area. Iraqi forces launched an offensive to retake Mosul and deal a death blow to the Islamic State group's "caliphate" in the city where it was declared two years ago. / AFP PHOTO / SAVE THE CHILDREN / Ruairidh VILLAR / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /SAVE THE CHILDREN/ RUAIRIDH VILLAR" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS RUAIRIDH VILLAR/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi forces gather in the area of al-Shourah, some 45 kms south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it from the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced earlier in the day that the long-awaited operation to recapture Mosul was under way. / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYEAHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi forces deploy in the area of al-Shourah, some 45 kms south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it from the Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, on October 17, 2016. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced earlier in the day that the long-awaited operation to recapture Mosul was under way. / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYEAHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters hold a position on the top of Mount Zardak, about 25 kilometres east of Mosul, on October 17, 2016. Thousands of Iraq's Kurdish peshmerga forces advanced on jihadist-held villages east of Mosul as part of a broad operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMEDSAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi policemen stand at attention with gasmasks at the Qayyarah military base, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) south of Mosul, on October 16, 2016, as they prepare for an offensive to retake Mosul, the last IS-held city in the country, after regaining much of the territory the jihadists seized in 2014 and 2015. / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYEAHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi policemen clean their weapons at the Qayyarah military base, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) south of Mosul, on October 16, 2016, as they prepare for an offensive to retake Mosul, the last IS-held city in the country, after regaining much of the territory the jihadists seized in 2014 and 2015. / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYEAHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images

Desperate Iraqis are paying smugglers up to $1,000 (£800) to flee Mosul as security forces backed by international air strikes launch a long-awaited assault against Isis.

The United Nations and humanitarian organisations have voiced growing concern for more than one million people living inside the terrorist group’s last major stronghold in Iraq.

There are no safe routes out of Mosul, forcing families to resort to covert people smuggling at the risk of being turned in or caught by Isis fighters, or detained by forces encircling the city.

Military commanders are urging civilians to stay inside their homes as fighting begins and place white flags outside, but there are fears the symbol could be exploited for cover by jihadis seeking to use human shields.

Abdelkadr, who fled Mosul with his wife and three children, told Deutsche Welle, said they paid $600 (£500) per person to flee but the price has since increased to more than $1,000 (£800).

Even before the long-awaited military assault launched, most roads out of the city were closed by land mines and snipers, with those open leading to Syria.

The UN Refugee Agency expects up to 100,000 Iraqis to cross into Syria and Turkey to escape the Iraqi government's military assault, appealing for millions of pounds in extra funding to provide tents, winter items and stoves for displaced civilians.

Save the Children is among the groups calling for safe corridors to be established for people to leave the conflict zone, with those who have managed to escape so far facing “desperate conditions” in camps.

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Aram Shakaram, the charity’s deputy country director in Iraq, said: “Unless safe routes to escape the fighting are established, many families will have no choice but to stay and risk being killed by crossfire or bombardment, trapped beyond the reach of humanitarian aid with little food or medical care.

“Those that try to flee will be forced to navigate a city ringed with booby traps, snipers and hidden landmines. Without immediate action to ensure people can flee safely, we are likely to see bloodshed of civilians on a massive scale.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council warned of a repeat of the situation seen during the assault on Fallujah earlier this year, where civilians were shot by Isis attempting to escape their homes, drowned trying to cross rivers and were detained by militias loyal to the government.

Iraqi forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga, Popular Mobilisation Units and international forces are currently under orders to “facilitate the transportation” of civilians to official camps.

Britain is part of the US-led coalition’s air strikes in the operation to drive Isis out of Mosul, which was announced by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in the early hours of Monday morning.

Tobias Ellwood, minister for the Middle East, said the assault marked “another step forward towards clearing Daesh [Isis] from Iraq”. 

“This will be the greatest challenge that Iraq’s Security Forces have yet encountered – they are up to that challenge,” he added.

“The UK, as part of the Global Coalition, is committed to continuing to provide the government of Iraq with military, humanitarian and stabilisation support.”

Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, has been under Isis rule for more than two years and militants have prepared for the invasion with underground tunnels, booby traps, suicide bombings and explosives.

It has been the scene of numerous massacres and public executions under the group’s control, with former residents telling The Independent jihadis sought to control “every aspect of life”, from children’s education to television.

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