As Iraqi offensive unfolds, civilians trapped in Fallujah face multiple threats

The Washington Post reports: Civilians trapped in the Iraqi city of Fallujah face mounting threats as humanitarian conditions worsen and Iraqi forces­ press their offensive to oust the Islamic State, local and foreign officials said Thursday.

About 50,000 civilians are believed to remain in the city, which has been under Islamic State control since January 2014, living under the militants’ harsh and capricious rule. Conditions for residents have grown dire in recent months as a siege by government-aligned forces has aggravated shortages of food and medicine.

Now, officials from Fallujah fear that the ongoing operation designed to break the militants’ grip on the city will further endanger civilians. In recent days, a combined force of Iraqi army troops, police, Shiite militiamen and Sunni tribal fighters has made progress in clearing militants from areas around Fallujah, in preparation for a push into the city in western Anbar province. [Continue reading…]

Becky Bakr Abdulla, from the Norwegian Refugee Council, describes the impact on civilians: The first thing that struck me was the silence. On Tuesday, as I entered Al Iraq, a displacement camp in Amiriyat Al-Fallujah and the nearest to the besieged city of Fallujah, no one was outside their tents. As fighting raged just 30km away between armed opposition groups and the Iraqi military, it was strangely quiet.

The camp shelters some of the few families who have managed to escape the fighting in the city that has been under armed opposition groups control for the last two years. On Monday, as the Iraqi military began an offensive in the city, the atmosphere in our office in Baghdad became particularly tense, as the already dire humanitarian situation became critical. Staff shared the latest scraps of news. Some became particularly anxious about their friends and family among the estimated 50,000 civilians still trapped in the city.

The families I met were in a state of shock and spoke about the ordeal of their escape. They were among the 21 families in Al Iraq camp, out of approximately 114 who we believe have escaped the city so far. One woman, whose family was told by armed opposition groups that they would be shot if they tried to flee, waited until night-time to make a move. They removed their shoes and sandals so they were not heard as they started running. [Continue reading…]

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