According to a UN High Commissioner for Refugees report, ISIS has detained thousands of civilians who fled from the area around the town of Hawija, and were trying to reach the city of Kirkuk. 12 were believed to have been killed trying to get to Kirkuk.
ISIS controls Hawija, just south of Kirkuk, and heavy airstrikes aimed at supporting a joint Iraqi-Peshmerga offensive against the town have raised sparked a civilian exodus from the area. ISIS regularly aims to stop civilians from fleeing their territory, particularly during attacks.
There are disputed reports about how many civilians ISIS has actually detained so far out of the recent exodus, with one NGO claiming 1,800, the UN saying “up to 3,000,” and Kurdish media outlets saying it was over 5,000. Massive numbers of civilians are internally displaced across Iraq.
What ISIS intends to do with the civilians is unclear. In some cases, they are accused of using them as human shields, but there have also been times where they’ve captured large numbers of people and then released them pretty quickly with no real explanation.
Hawija was the site of major demonstrations against the Iraqi government before the ISIS war, with Sunnis demonstrating against their mistreatment. It was also the site of the April 2013 massacre of protesters by the Iraqi military, which ultimately killed over 200 demonstrators.
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