The Iraqi army dropped tens of thousands of leaflets on Mosul Sunday, warning of an imminent assault to retake the largest city under ISIS control.
The leaflets warned residents that advancing army units and air strikes “will not target civilians” and that they should avoid known locations of Islamic State militants.
“Keep calm and tell your children that it is only a game or thunder before the rain,” a leaflet said. “Women should not scream or shout, to preserve the children’s spirit.”
The assault could begin this month with the support of a U.S.-led coalition, according to Iraqi government and military officials.
As many as 4,500 ISIS fighters are entrenched in the city and expected to fight tooth and nail. The bloodthirsty militants have forced civilians to stay in harm’s way in previous battles.
The ISIS fighters have likely built an extensive tunnel network beneath the city, The New York Times reported.
The United Nations said last week the looming battle could lead to the world’s biggest and most complex humanitarian effort. Up to 1 million people could be left homeless and civilians could be used as human shields or gassed.
Authorities were concerned that an exodus from the city would result in more bloodshed. The leaflets also warned the population “to stay at home and not to believe rumors” spread by ISIS intended to cause panic.
Before ISIS seized the city in 2014, Mosul had a population of around 2 million, making it the largest ever controlled by the extremists.