Civilians trapped as Iraq forces close in on Fallujah
FALLUJAH – Agence France-Presse
AFP photoIraqi forces cleared areas around Fallujah May 24 after launching an assault to retake the city, tightening their siege on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) but also raising fears for civilians trapped inside.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the start of the operation to retake Fallujah on May 23 and less than a day into the battle, Iraqi forces had secured the nearby town of Garma.
That cut off ISIL fighters in Fallujah from one of their last support areas and paved the way for more advances towards the city, which lies only 50 kilometers west of Baghdad.
“Federal forces advanced towards the east of Fallujah early today from three directions,” police Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat told AFP.
The Hashed al-Shaabi umbrella paramilitary organization, dominated by Tehran-backed Shiite militias that are heavily involved in the operation, said ground was also gained south of Fallujah.
With forces converging on the city, concerns mounted that the tens of thousands of civilians believed to still be inside had nowhere to go.
The Norwegian Refugee Council estimated the number at 50,000 and urged efforts to get them out.
“Families who have been suffering food and medical shortages over the last months now risk being caught in the crossfire and it is absolutely vital that they are granted safe routes out of there so that we can assist them,” NRC country director Nasr Muflahi said in a statement.
He told AFP that only 80 families appeared to have been able to flee the city in the hours before the fighting began, and none since.
“We were expecting more to come out overnight, this hasn’t happened,” Muflahi said, adding that plans by local authorities to open humanitarian corridors had not yet materialized.