Iraqis 'feel trapped' as operation to retake Anbar begins
Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians in the city of Falluja are struggling to leave as they find themselves trapped in the battle between Islamic State (IS) militants and Iraqi forces.
The Iraqi government began a long-awaited large-scale military operation to dislodge Islamic State group militants from Iraq's western Anbar province on Monday.
With the extremists coercing them to stay, and a government blockade and shelling closing exit routes and cutting off supplies, there is "a vice, a noose around the neck of the population", Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, told Reuters.
IS seized large parts of Anbar in early 2014 and captured Ramadi in May.
Iraqi forces, which had been making steady progress against the extremists in recent months with the help of the air campaign, scored a major victory in recapturing Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on March 31, 2015.
During the past few weeks, the troops have been moving to cut the militants' supply routes and to surround and isolate Ramadi and Fallujah.
"Since military operations began, it has become impossible to leave. Islamic State have planted bombs at the entrance and exits to the city and on the main roads to prevent security forces entering or citizens leaving” a teacher told Reuters.
Baghdad's last military push against Islamic State, to retake Tikrit in April, came after most citizens had fled.
In June, the United Nations said that the number of people displaced within Iraq due to violence and fighting by the Islamic State group had exceeded three million.
But leaders from the Shia militias fighting alongside Iraq's army have said that civilians in Falluja “will be evacuated before the final push.”
Iraq has been ravaged by violence since the Islamic State group first entered Anbar in late 2013 amid fierce clashes with Iraqi security forces that sent civilians fleeing from their homes.
The Sunni militant group then waged a lightening advance across northern Iraq last June, often giving non-Sunni Muslims in territories they captured an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or die.
Hundreds of thousands of religious minorities opted to run for their lives, including Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims.