UNITED NATIONS -- The once-relentless advance of a fearsome Sunni-based insurgent group that took over major cities in Iraq on its way to the capital has "stalled," according a UN envoy who briefed journalists Wednesday.
The assessment was a departure from the tone of earlier reports that depicted more and more Iraqi territory coming under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as the group barreled toward Baghdad like a juggernaut.
"For anyone to attempt to take over Baghdad would be extremely difficult," said Nickolay Mladenov, the secretary-general's special representative in Iraq, who spoke to journalists at the UN's headquarters in Manhattan via satellite link about the situation in Iraq since ISIL seized cities such as Mosul and Fallujah.
He said that ISIL's momentum has been checked because Iraqis have been enlisting in the armed forces in droves, boosting morale of the previously routed army that was vanquished, retreated and surrendered when confronted by ISIL, an offshoot of al-Qaeda.
Mladenov also said that Baghdad has become more secure in the weeks since the surge's inception. What's more, the arrival of some 300 American special forces personnel is also a welcome development, he added.
Still, he said ISIL has exacerbated a precarious political and social situation, as its insurgency, which is an adjunct to the more than 3-year-old civil war in Syria, has further inflamed tensions among the Sunni, Shia and Kurdish groups in Iraq.
The conflict in Iraq has increased to about two million the number of internally displaced people, UN officials said.
Some 220,000 are refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria, about 500,000 are displaced because of the most recent flare-up caused by ISIL's campaigns and some had been displaced by earlier conflicts in Iraq, Mladenov explained.
He added that about 900 civilians have been killed since early June, when the insurgency began, another 650 wounded in battles in Nineveh, Salah al-Din and Diyala. Dozens of soldiers and civilians have been shot to death in mass executions, according to some reports.
Mladenov, who said the UN would probably be asking the international community for about $300 million in humanitarian assistance, said the situation in Iraq remains "grave." There are credible reports of summary executions and rape - but he added that it is not hopeless.
"The situation is grave but it is not unsolvable," he said, adding that nations hoping to help must work with Iraqi officials as they strive to reach political stability and sound military strategy. "It is not impossible to save Iraq."