Islamic State group leaders fleeing Mosul with their families
Islamic State group leaders have sold their belongings and fled Mosul, Iraq's Defence Minister Khalid al-Obeidi claimed on Saturday, as Iraqi forces edged closer to the outskirts of the city.
He also claimed that militants have infiltrated groups of civilians leaving the city towards Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.
"A number of the families... and leaders of (IS) in Mosul, they and their families sold their belongings and withdrew towards Syria," whose border west of the city, Obeidi told Iraqiya state television.
The Red Cross said up to 1 million more Iraqis are at risk of being displaced as government forces continue to engage in fierce battles with the Islamic State group to recapture the final IS-bastion in Iraq, Mosul.
Mosul, which has been under Islamic State control since June 2014, was once home to some two million people, but more than half have left since the conflict began.
There have been huge concerns about the conduct of Iraqi Shia militias and Kurdish forces in recaptured territories, which contain mostly Sunni populations.
Revenge attacks, abductions and torture by militants have all been reported on civilians. The Iraqi defence minister has sparked fears that Baghdad is effecively spreading distrust about Iraqi civilians fleeing IS-held areas.
Iraqi government forces have marched towards Mosul in recent weeks after a string of victories against the militants in other parts of the country.
Last month, the Iraqi army and alligned-militias declared victory in Fallujah after pushing out the militants during an offensive that forced tens of thousands of people to flee.
But the battle for Mosul - a much larger city - is expected to see a stark increase in internally-displaced civilians.
It has prompted the Red Cross to request an additional $17.1 million for its Iraq budget to help provide assistance to displaced people in the country.
IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but has since lost significant ground to Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes.