ISIL Leaders have started to flee the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, as US-backed Iraqi and Kurdish forces close in on the jihadists' largest stronghold.
Khaled al-Obeidi, Iraq's defence minister, said he had intelligence that senior figures in Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as Daesh, have already begun to leave, before an offensive planned for September.
"Many Daesh families and leaders in Mosul have sold their property and sneaked out towards Syria, and a segment even tried to sneak out towards [Iraq's Kurdish] region," he said. With as many as two million residents, Mosul is the group's de facto capital in Iraq and the biggest city under its control in its self-proclaimed caliphate.
Civilians caught trying to escape are killed by the group, which has had a stranglehold on the city for more than two years. It has blocked the routes out with mines and snipers.
It has previously been estimated that there are 9,000 Isil fighters in the city, and that dislodging them would require at least 30,000 men, engaged in house-to-house fighting for up to six months. The campaign, which has been slow to start, has gained momentum in recent weeks after government forces retook a key air base south of Mosul.
The US, which is providing air support, announced it would send 500 more troops to help bolster the army.
The army is likely to receive support from Shia-led militias in recapturing the Sunni-majority city. Human Rights Watch has warned against using militias with records of serious abuses. During the recapture of Fallujah in central Iraq, the Shia Popular Mobilisation Forces group was accused of torturing dozens of men.
Mr Obeidi said the biggest challenge would be to protect civilians. In previous offensives, Isil has used them as human shields.
Aid agencies have warned that the battle for Mosul could displace as many as two million people living in the city and could prompt the country's largest humanitarian crisis in years.
u Isil fighters attacked a gas facility and a nearby oil field yesterday (Sunday), killing five people, in rare assaults inside Kurdish-controlled areas of Kirkuk province in northern Iraq. Gunmen on motorbikes opened fire on the facility's guards and planted bombs before escaping.