Iraqi armed forces launched an operation on Saturday to capture the last Islamic State-held enclave in Mosul, according to a military statement.
The enclave covers mainly the Old City center and three adjacent districts alongside the western bank of the Tigris River.
The Iraqi air force dropped leaflets on Friday urging residents in the enclave to flee, raising fears among humanitarian groups for the safety of desperate civilians there. Save the Children warned that fleeing civilians could be caught in the crossfire, leading to "deadly chaos."
The United Nations said that "as many as 200,000 additional people may try to leave in coming days" and that both Iraqi forces and ISIS fighters are obligated under international law to protect civilians.
Since the Mosul operation was launched, Iraqi forces have encouraged civilians to remain in their homes to avoid massive displacement and ISIS fighters have repeatedly targeted fleeing civilians with small arms and mortar fire.
More than 100,000 civilians are estimated to still be inside Mosul.
Meanwhile, an Iraqi official said that a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander was killed in an explosion during clashes with ISIS west of Mosul.
The Iraqi official said that Gen. Shaaban Nasiiri was an adviser to Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, who has acted as a key adviser to Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces – an umbrella group of Mostly Shi'ite militia forces sanctioned by the Iraqi government – in the fight against ISIS.
The Iraqi official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Nasiiri was killed Friday night.
While U.S.-backed forces have fought inside Mosul during the operation to retake it from ISIS, Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces have largely operated in the deserts to the west cutting supply lines and attempting to begin securing Iraq's border with Syria.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now