Falluja ‘faces humanitarian disaster’


A humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Falluja following a civilian exodus from the Iraqi city, aid workers warn.

Some 80,000 people have fled during a four-week government offensive to drive back so-called Islamic State fighters, says the UN.

A further 25,000 civilians are likely on the move, the organisation adds.

Aid workers are struggling to provide food, water and medicine to people who are sleeping in the open in hopelessly overcrowded camps outside the city.

“The overwhelming number of people that have come out of Falluja has actually overwhelmed our ability to respond to the people in need,” said Nasr Muflahi from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

“We implore the Iraqi government to take charge of this humanitarian disaster unfolding on our watch,” he added.

Iraqi government forces have succeeded in retaking most of Falluja, but fighting continues in some parts of the city, which is just 50km (30 miles) west of Baghdad.

‘Militants are still active’

We drove into Falluja on a road that snaked through what was once a wealthy suburb but is now deserted. Many homes have been destroyed.

By the side of the road, unexploded shells showed how dangerous these streets remain for civilians if they are allowed to return.

Many tell harrowing escape stories. Some have been caught in crossfire, others drowned in the Euphrates as they tried to swim to safety.

We heard the sound of artillery and gunfire wherever we went.

Many of those who fleeing the fighting have been forced to sleep in the open, and spend their days under the sun in temperatures set to reach 47C (117F) in the next few days.

Aid supplies are running dangerously low in overcrowded conditions. One newly opened camp, Amriyat al-Falluja, has only one latrine for 1,800 women, the NRC said.

Asked whether it was safe for our team to visit the government compound, the commander replied: “Of course you cannot.”

“There is no longer a government compound,” he said. “It is flattened. The militants dynamited it alongside many buildings in the city before their escape, and the area there must be full of roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices.”

Many homes we saw in districts like the southern districts of al-Shuhada and al-Hayakel were destroyed.

Officers say most of the destruction has been caused by the booby traps placed by Sunni rebels and IS militants.

It is not possible to determine whether the US-led air strikes or the army shelling have also played a role in the destruction.


Most of the civilians in Falluja have been forced to live under IS’s harsh rule. They would not dare to revolt.

Sunni Muslims suffered marginalisation under the Shia-led government of former Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

But they never imagined that life would be like a nightmare under IS, which took over the city in January 2014.

The United Nations estimated that 90,000 civilians were trapped there when the assault began last month.

Since the start of the operation, as many as 40,000 people have taken advantage of IS’ retreat to flee.

Meanwhile, aid workers and volunteers have warned of an unfolding humanitarian crisis because of the severe shortage of food supplies, water and medicine.


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