Iraqi forces entered Qayyarah from three sides. The city, just 37 miles from Iraq's second-largest city, fell to the Islamic State in 2014. Photo by Google maps
MOSUL, Iraq, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- Iraqi forces moved to within 37 miles of Mosul on Tuesday, storming into Qayyarah as the United Nations relief agency scrambled to assist more than 1 million people expected to be displaced.
Troops entered Qayyarah from three locations.
"Priority of the operation is to save and protect civilians in the area, as they are being used by ISIS as human shields," Maj. Gen. Sami Al-Ardedi, commander of special operations for the Iraqi army, said in a statement.
Mosul is Iraq's second largest city and the Islamic State's last major urban stronghold in Iraq.
Qayyarah was captured by the Islamic State in 2014. The air base near the city was recaptured in July.
Gen. Najim al-Jobouri, the commander of Iraq's Nineveh operations, said his forces are weakening ISIS. "I think that they have a lack of foreign fighters," he told CNN.
The Iraqi Defense Ministry has urged Qayyarah residents to evacuate within this week and head toward a settlement near the district's airfield or to Tibna village, which is under the control of Iraqi forces.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced plans Tuesday to set up additional camps for those displaced with a prediction of up to 1.2 people affected.
Contingency plans have been drawn up to provide shelter for up to 120,000 people fleeing Mosul and the surrounding areas.
"Already, in recent months, some 213,000 people have fled their homes in different parts of the country," Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the Office of the UNHCR told journalists at the regular press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. "This includes 48,000 people from the Mosul area; 87,000 from the Fallujah region; and 78,000 from Shirqat, Qayyarah and surrounds."
Since January 2014, some 3.38 million people have fled their homes – including families being displaced multiple times, UNHCR said.
"UNHCR is doing what it can amid enormous challenges to build more camps to accommodate people and mitigate suffering, but additional land for camps and funding is still needed," Edwards said.
The U.N. agency provides shelter, emergency relief kits and legal aid.
UNHCR's overall appeal for $584 million for displaced Iraqis was only 38-percent funded.