LONDON, Jan 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The international community may be too focused on fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq to see the country's 'overwhelming' humanitarian needs, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said.
Humanitarian aid should be scaled up in proportion to the escalation of military operations, otherwise the gap between the needs and the aid that is being provided will widen further, the charity said.
"The international community is too focused, probably, on the fight against ISIS ... that the importance ... of increasing the humanitarian assistance is not taken into account," Fabio Forgione, MSF's head of mission in Iraq, said in London late on Wednesday.
"It is .. important to make sure that humanitarian assistance grows in parallel to the military operations which are carried out," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, swept through one-third of Iraq in June 2014 and declared a "caliphate" in territory it controlled in both Iraq and Syria, carrying out mass killings and imposing a draconian form of Islam.
Since then, the fight against the group has drawn in global and regional powers, often with competing allies on the ground in complex multi-sided conflicts.
At least 18,800 civilians were killed and 36,240 wounded in violence in Iraq from January 2014 to October 2015, according to the United Nations.
More than 3.2 million people have been displaced inside the country, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Forgione said an estimated 2 million to 4 million people in Iraq needed humanitarian assistance, but the real number might be higher. Areas of major concern are Salah al-Din, Diyala, Anbar, Nineveh and the outskirts of Baghdad, he said.
Few humanitarian agencies have been able to work in many parts of central Iraq because it is too dangerous, and in most cases only MSF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are still at work there, Forgione said.
The charity's 'concern number one' is potential cholera outbreaks because of the limited access to clean water, and 'widespread' mental health problems, he said.
"Needs are so overwhelming that alone we are not able to satisfy them all," Forgione said. "We have to make priorities which in our case is mostly focusing on the availability of medical care."
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)