People who are fleeing from clashes arrive in Qayyarah during an operation against Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq, on Oct. 19. (Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters)

One in every 10 people in Iraq has already been displaced in the war against the Islamic State, and there is little doubt hundreds of thousands more may soon be uprooted.

As Iraqi security forces push toward Mosul from three directions, the government has urged people to stay in their homes to avoid a human tide that aid agencies and the Iraqi government say they are nowhere near equipped to handle.

But as the battles draw near, families inevitably flee.

Iraqi officials estimate that there are between 1.2 million and 1.8 million civilians still in Mosul, the most populous city that the Islamic State controls. Since the militants began seizing territory in Iraq in 2014, at least 3.3 million people have been forced out of their homes, in a country of about 34 million people.

The United Nations has warned that up to 200,000 people may be displaced in the first weeks of the operation. In total, some 700,000 may need shelter, it says. Camps are being hastily constructed, but there are concerns that essential aid may not be ready in time.

While their escape from fighting can happen in moments, returning — even after areas are cleared of militants — can be a long struggle. Destruction, explosives and tribal and sectarian rifts have all hampered efforts to get people back to their towns and villages.

“This is only the beginning of a larger humanitarian crisis,” Suad Jarbawi, Iraq country director for Mercy Corps, which is providing assistance, said of the displacement so far. “The people of Iraq deserve more than a humanitarian response — they deserve a response that helps them heal and rebuild their country.”


The Deepaka camp northwest of Irbil, Iraq, on Oct. 20. (Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters)

Women who recently fled the Islamic State's stronghold of Hawijah line up Oct. 19 to receive food at Debaga camp on the outskirts of Irbil. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

A displaced Iraqi youth from the Bajwaniyah village, south of Mosul, who fled fighting carries a white flag Oct. 18 as he approaches security forces who liberated the village from the Islamic State. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

A displaced woman who is fleeing from clashes holds her baby in Qayyarah on Oct. 19. (Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters)

Smoke rises as people flee their homes during clashes between Iraqi security forces and members of the Islamic State group fleeing Mosul on Oct. 18. (AP)

Displaced people who are fleeing from clashes arrive in Qayyarah on Oct. 19. (Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters)

Smoke is seen as people flee their homes during clashes between Iraqi security forces and members of the Islamic State group fleeing Mosul on Oct. 18. (AP)

People fleeing from clashes in al-Hud village, south of Mosul, head to Qayyarah on Oct. 18. (Reuters)

Displaced Iraqi boys ride a donkey as they lead their flock after fleeing their home in the village of Tal al-Shawk on Oct. 20. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqis who fled violence in Mosul rest upon reaching Syria’s Hasaka province, near the Iraqi border, on Oct. 20. (Rodi Said/Reuters)