Millions of Iraqis displaced since IS takeovers

Millions of Iraqis displaced since IS takeovers
UN says 2.7 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the start of 2014, including 90,000 from Anbar in the last few weeks as Baghdad faces new humanitarian catastrophe.
5 min read
20 April, 2015
More than 90,000 have fled fighting in the Ramadi area of Iraq's Anbar province [AFP]
More than 90,000 people have fled fighting between pro-government forces and the Islamic State group in the Ramadi area of Iraq's Anbar province, the United Nations said on Sunday.

"Our top priority is delivering life-saving assistance to people who are fleeing - food, water and shelter are highest on the list of priorities," humanitarian coordinator for the UN in Iraq, Lise Grande said in a statement.

     Our top priority is delivering life-saving assistance to people who are fleeing

- UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq
At least 2.7 million people have been displaced in Iraq since the beginning of 2014, including almost half a million from the western province of Anbar, the UN said.

Grande expressed concern over the safety of the displaced people, who are mainly heading to Baghdad and the IS-held city of Fallujah. 

The UN statement comes as Iraqi forces, backed by US-led airstrikes, cleared the country's largest oil refinery of IS fighters.

IS has made repeated attempts over the past 10 months to capture Baiji refinery north of Baghdad, most recently seizing parts of the facility and holding out for days.

Iraqi forces "regained full control of the Baiji Oil Refinery after having successfully cleared the massive facility of any remaining (IS) fighters," the US-led coalition said in a statement.

The coalition carried out 47 airstrikes in the Baiji area over nine days, and Iraq has deployed reinforcements to the refinery and is fortifying it, the statement said.

But Ahmed al-Krayim, the head of Salaheddin provincial council, said efforts to completely clear the refinery were ongoing.

A police officer said that while the facility was "under the control of our forces", there were still holdout suicide bombers and snipers inside.

Since 11 April the IS has managed to launch a series of simultaneous attacks on northern and western cities including, according to Iraqi officials, 78 suicide attacks followed by hundreds of fighters attacking the cities.

As a result, Iraqi forces lost control of large parts of Ramadi, al-Baghdadi, al-Jazira, Ibrahim al-Hassan and al-Sufiyah, as well as the eastern areas of al-Karmah, adjacent to Baghdad.

In addition to this, IS forces continue to control parts of northern Tikrit, less than one month after it was liberated by Iraqi forces.

The towns and villages of Hashimiyah, Sur Shanas, Thiraa Dijla, al-Sadda, al-Khanajir, Um al-Ubaid and the northern neighbourhoods of Kirkuk's Daquq district remain in IS control, while northern areas in the governorate of Nineveh continue to resist the IS' extensive attacks. 

According to Iraqi military and government reports over the past two days, Kurdish forces have managed to deter four consecutive attacks in less than a week. 

"IS launched its biggest offensive across Iraq since it took over Mosul in June 2014, using thousands of fighters recruited from Syria, likely led by the IS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," a senior official in the Iraqi Defence Ministry told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

"This terrorist group is either plotting a new phase of military operations or waiting for the Iraqi forces and militias to be depleted so they can attack the remaining cities again." 

"Our capabilities are too weak to fend off this extensive attack," he added.

"Baghdad is in danger again, and it is highly likely to be attacked. This is why the army and police are on maximum alert around the city. Officers and soldiers have been instructed to suspend their leave and return to their duty stations outside Baghdad."

Prioritising Iraq

"Syria is no longer a priority for IS. Baghdadi moved more than 10,000 fighters from Syria to Iraq in less than a week. We seem to be heading towards a new and serious crisis, which political leaders should promptly prepare for, demanding open support in different forms from the West, before the situations deteriorates beyond repair," said Mohammad al-Ubaydi, a member of Iraq's Hirak movement.
     Syria is no longer a priority for IS. We seem to be heading towards a new and serious crisis

- A member of Iraq's Hirak movement

"In one week, IS regained control of every city or town the international coalition and the Iraqi army took over in the past six months, plus a few more cities," added Ubaydi.

"We are now back to the map before 12 December 2014, when Iraqi forces managed to liberate Abu Gharib and Sulaiman Bek from the hands of the IS. Today, IS is back in control of this area, confirming the collapse of the Iraqi forces once again."

"Anbar is witnessing a catastrophic situation, and the IS has carried out massacres of unspeakable cruelty," Anbar governor Suhaib al-Rawi told al-Araby.

Faleh al-Issawi, deputy head of the Anbar council, blamed Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Ebadi for "the fall of Anbar in the hands of the IS, as he refused to listen to calls for arming the tribes due to political agendas that Iraqis are well aware of."  

"Nearly 88 percent of Anbar is out of government control now, while the remaining areas are at risk," Issawi explained. 

The Habbaniyah and Ayn al-Assad air bases, as well as the cities of Haditha and Amiriyah, are still under the control of the Iraqi government, but they are also under tight siege by the IS from all directions. 

According to Iraq's National Human Rights Commission, nearly 400,000 Anbar residents fled to Baghdad and other destinations following extensive IS attacks on their cities. This comes amid warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe, as reports have emerged of women and children dying of hunger and disease. 

Commission member Bushra Mohammad said it was difficult to find shelter and set up camps for the displaced people due to the sudden influx and lack of preparations. 

According to northern Iraq army commander General Abdul Wahab al-Saedi, the international coalition has intensified its airstrikes on IS sites in recently-controlled cities, particularly in Ramadi and Baiji, causing extensive damage. 

The airstrikes have become more efficient, and we are currently preparing a new strategy to attack the IS in the cities it controls," Saedi told al-Araby

Since the early hours of the morning, travel agencies in Baghdad and other cities have been witnessing an influx of hundreds of Iraqi citizens looking to travel to Arab and Western countries, mostly Turkey and Lebanon, fleeing the rapid collapse of security in their cities. 

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.