Backed by US airstrikes, Iraqi forces and allied Shi’ite militias are moving closer to the major Anbar city of Fallujah, under ISIS control since January of 2014. The city has been surrounded for weeks, and as the offensive grows, so does fear about the civilian population’s fate.
Being out of the general ISIS supply lines, Fallujah has faced growing shortages in recent months, with locals saying there is increasing starvation, as well as acute shortages of medication at hospitals. Though some have estimated as many as 100,000 still remain, recent estimates suggest about 50,000 civilians left in Fallujah.
But while the Abadi government has “ordered” civilians to flee, it’s not so easy to actually do so. Surrounded by Iraqi troops from without, ISIS troops from within, and countless fields of explosives in the middle, only about 800 people have successfully fled the city.
Staying isn’t much safer, with the offensive meaning artillery hitting central parts of the city, and leaving home to try to find food a dangerous endeavor, with the risk that anyone out of the house is suspected of fleeing by ISIS, and targeted for that.
Those who’ve successfully escaped are described as “in a state of shock” from the difficulty, but even then their future is ultimately uncertain, as Sunni Arab refugees “liberated” from ISIS territory are a growing refugee problem across Iraq, and unwelcome in many parts of the country.