A humanitarian airlift to northern Iraq began on Wednesday, kicking off a 10-day operation to provide tents and other aid to half a million displaced people who are struggling for survival, United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said.

A cargo plane from Jordan touched down in Arbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, carrying 100 tonnes of emergency supplies, and will be followed by land and sea shipments, the Geneva-based agency said in a statement.

"This is a massive logistics operation ... to help the hundreds of thousands of desperate people who have fled suddenly with nothing but their lives and are now struggling to survive in harsh conditions," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes since the militant Islamic State group swept through much of the north and west of Iraq in June, threatening to break up the country.

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