Fallujah residents: besieged, bombarded and displaced

Fallujah residents: besieged, bombarded and displaced
Human Rights Watch calls for aid to reach Fallujah residents under siege as demands grow to help Iraqis caught between the Islamic State group, the army and rival militias.
4 min read
07 April, 2016
Fallujah, known as 'the city of mosques', has more than 200 places of worship [Getty]
The starving residents of the city of Fallujah must be allowed by the Iraqi government to access crucial aid, while the Islamic State group must allow citizens to leave, Human Rights Watch urged on Thursday

"The people of Fallujah are besieged by the government, trapped by [IS], and are starving," Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East director, said in a statement.

"The warring parties should make sure that aid reaches the civilian population."

HRW cited Iraqi activists in contact with Fallujah residents as saying that people "were reduced to eating flat bread made with flour from ground date seeds and soups made from grass".

Anti-government fighters took control of Fallujah, just 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Baghdad, in early 2014 during unrest that broke out after security forces demolished a protest camp farther west, and it later became an IS stronghold.

IS seized more territory in surrounding Anbar province after launching an offensive later that year, but pro-government forces have since regained significant ground from the miitant group.

Iraqi forces have largely cut off access to Fallujah, while IS is preventing residents from leaving the city.

Tribesmen battled IS in Fallujah for several days in February in a sign that its grip was weakening, but the fighting ended after IS fighters detained dozens of residents.

IS has also announced the execution of alleged "spies" in the city.

The HRW report follows repeated calls by Iraqis for help. Iyad Allawi, a former interim prime minister, warned that Fallujah faced imminent destruction.

"Despite our repeated warnings, the situation in the city is getting worse at an alarming rate," he said on Friday.

The Islamic State group reportedly burnt 15 people to death for attempting to flee the city on Wednesday.

Iraqi officials told The New Arab that, as part of the campaign to remove IS from Anbar province, Iraqi forces are likely to attempt to liberate Fallujah. However, the Iraqi army and its allied militias have also been accused of committing violent abuses against civilians.

More than 30 Iraqis were injured on Friday after Iraqi aircraft targeted the city.

The bombardment targeted civilians who approached the circling aircraft apparently expecting to receive a drop of food and medical aid. A group of seven people, including two children and three women, were reported dead after bombs fell instead.

Muhammed al-Jumaili, an elder on the Fallujah council called on the international community to put a halt to the "daily massacres" in the city, saying there was a "systematic" campaign to annihilate the residents of Fallujah through bombardment and hunger.

Activists on social media have been using the Arab-language hashtag #FallujahIsStarving in an attempt to raise awareness for the city's 100,000 residents who are caught between the Islamic State group and the Iraqi army.

"The people of Fallujah are short of food supplies, elderly people have no means of getting healthcare and some cases of hunger have been noticed in the city," said Issa Sayyar al-Isawi, Fallujah's governor.

"The city has witnessed cases of suicide due to hunger, among them a mother with her three children," he added.

Prominent religious figures such as the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia and Yusuf al-Qaradawi have also called for intervention to save the city.

Abu Omar from Fallujah lives in a camp
on the outskirts of the city [al-Araby
Human Rights Watch previously criticised the Iraqi government for targeting a hospital in Fallujah during its 2014 campaign against IS. 

The situation remains dire for the 35,000 internally displaced Iraqis who have been forced to leave the city since 2014.

"Since leaving the city of Fallujah two years ago with the start of military operations and aerial and land bombardment of our homes, I haven't found anywhere to live apart from this simple tent to shelter my small family," said Abu Omar, a 35-year-old whose baby girl was born with brain damage.

"When my baby was born, she was sick and needed treatment in a specialised hospital. I have not been able to save enough money, and even if I could, the government would not permit me to enter Baghdad.

"I am Iraqi, so why prevent me from entering Baghdad?"

There are more than two million internally displaced Iraqis, but the government prevents many from entering the capital and other large cities.  

Yet Abu Omar counts himself lucky for being able to escape the city and its bombing.

"Thousands of people were unable to leave the city because they do not have enough money and were forced to remain at the mercy of hunger and bombing."

He said that he spends his days with his neighbours in the refugee camp, remembering those that have been lost in the bombing of the area.

"Displacement is very painful and difficult for us at a time when the Iraqi government does not pay attention to us."

Abu Omar added that Fallujah's refugees should be patient and that the ordeal will, one day, be over:

"I do not know what the future is for young people in a country ruled by gangs, militias and IS."

Agencies contributed to this report