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Iraqi Force declares Fallujah “fully liberated” from ISIL

Kurdish commanders have warned against allowing Shi’ite militias participate in the offensive in the predominantly Sunni area

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ISIS in Iraq (Source: Reuters)
  • Fallujah has been liberated from Islamic State fighters by Iraqi forces
  • Backed by US-led coalition airstrikes and a strong contingent of Shi’ite militias, Iraqi forces fought fiercely for weeks to oust the extremist fighters 
  • Many of the displaced are women and children

State of Fallujah has been liberated from Islamic State fighters by Iraqi forces, said the senior Iraqi officials. It took a month long military offensive to seize control over the state.

Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said on Sunday, June 26, Fallujah is now “fully liberated” after Iraqi forces took control of the Julan neighborhood, the last area of the city still held by IS.

State of Fallujah liberated. Image Source: Reuters

The destruction of the city is extensive.

Backed by US-led coalition airstrikes and a strong contingent of Shi’ite militias, Iraqi forces fought fiercely for weeks to oust the extremist fighters.  There are no clear reports of how many IS militants and how many Iraqi security forces died or were wounded in the battle for the city.

Tens of thousands need aid

Afraid of dying in the crossfire, 85,000 people have flooded out of the city and surrounding areas, overwhelming humanitarian agencies and Iraqi government efforts to help them.  Many of the displaced are without adequate shelter, living under searing summer temperatures of 45 degrees or higher and punishing sandstorms.

“With every day that passes in the camps, the conditions for some of the most vulnerable keep deteriorating,” warned NRC’s Iraq Country Director Nasr Muflahi.

People in Iraq need aid (Source: Reuters)
People in Iraq need aid (Source: Reuters)

The director of a health center in Amariyat al-Fallujah, where many of the displaced ran to, warned of the lack of water and sanitation.

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“We have too many people, with very few latrines, and there are no more spaces in the camps.  Every five meters you find a family,” said director Ahmed Basel. “If this crisis is not tackled we will soon see diseases spreading.”

Situation unstable

But despite the dire conditions in the camps, Muflahi cautioned against having civilians return to their homes too soon.

“We just do not know which areas are safe and which aren’t; we need a thorough demining of civilian areas and safety assessments,” he said in a statement released Sunday.

Many of the displaced are women and children.  All males over the age of 14 were separated from their families upon leaving Fallujah to undergo security screening to make sure they were not IS members.  Those released are given special badges to identify them.  The screening procedure is supposed to be conducted solely by Iraqi Security Forces.

Unstable situation (Source: Reuters)
Unstable situation (Source: Reuters)

But the UNHCR said Sunday, June 26, that roughly 850 men and boys from the traditionally Sunni city have been held since June 3 by paramilitary groups, a term indicating Shi’ite militia forces.

“Interviews with families confirmed reports indicating that almost all families are missing multiple family members,” UNHCR said.

Many analysts have warned of the risks of sectarian violence by the Shi’ite militias upon Fallujah’s Sunni population.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday, June 24, had already declared victory over the IS militants.  “Daesh will be defeated,” he announced, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Mosul next

The next step, Abadi said, would be to retake Mosul.

For several weeks, U.S. intelligence officials have described the IS group as being “at its weakest point since its rapid expansion.”

U.S. President Barack Obama said during a recent news conference the group is “under more pressure than ever” and that IS has been losing it key leaders.

But Iraqi Kurdish military commanders warn that Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, will be a much tougher fight that will require a political-military agreement between all the parties involved.  Kurdish commanders, for example, have warned against allowing Shi’ite militias participate in the offensive in the predominantly Sunni area.

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Humanitarian agencies are already worried of the possibility of having some 600,000 Mosul-area civilians displaced, a disaster many times the size of the current desperate situation outside Fallujah.

Displaced people (Source: Reuters)
Displaced people (Source: Reuters)

The UNHCR is already working to build a camp to house some 6,000 future displaced on land donated by the Governor of Irbil.  But it is a drop in the bucket, and nearby camps of those fleeing the ongoing fighting outside Mosul are already full.

The UNHCR had asked for $584 million to help 3.3 million people displaced since 2014 by war against Islamic State, out of which only 21% was funded. (VOA)

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Syrian Militia: End Is Near for Islamic State in Raqqa

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Syria ISIS
Smoke rises near the stadium where the Islamic State militants are holed up after an airstrike by coalition forces at the frontline, in Raqqa, Syria. voa

Islamic State is on the verge of defeat in Syria’s Raqqa and the city may finally be cleared of the jihadists Saturday or Sunday, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia told Reuters Saturday.

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said around 100 of the jihadist group’s fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and had been “removed from the city,” but it still expected difficult fighting “in the days ahead.”

It did not say how the fighters had been removed or where the fighters had been taken.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said remaining Islamic State fighters were being transported out of Raqqa by bus under a deal between Islamic State, the U.S.-led coalition and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG. There was no immediate comment on that report from the coalition or the SDF.

Fighting since June

Civilians who escaped from Islamic State
Civilians who escaped from Islamic State militants rest at a mosque in Raqqa, Syria. voa

The SDF, backed by coalition airstrikes and special forces, has been battling since June to oust Islamic State from Raqqa city, formerly its de facto capital in Syria and a base of operations where it planned attacks against the West.

The final defeat of Islamic State at Raqqa will be a major milestone in efforts to roll back the group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year the group was driven from the city of Mosul.

“The battles are continuing in Raqqa city. Daesh (Islamic State) is on the verge of being finished. Today or tomorrow the city may be liberated,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters by telephone.

In emailed comments to Reuters, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon said about 100 Islamic State fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and were “removed from the city,” without giving further details.

“We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think (Islamic State) will be completely defeated in Raqqa,” he said, adding that around 85 percent of Raqqa had been liberated as of Oct. 13.

Some civilians escape

Around 1,500 civilians had been able to safely make it to SDF lines within the last week, he added.

Omar Alloush, a member of a civilian council set up to run Raqqa, told Reuters late Friday that efforts were under way to secure the release of civilians and “a possible way to expel terrorist elements from Raqqa province,” without giving further details.

An activist group that reports on Raqqa, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said on its Facebook page Saturday that dozens of buses had entered Raqqa city overnight, having traveled from the northern Raqqa countryside.

The Observatory said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families. It did not say where they would be taken.

During the more than six-year Syrian war, the arrival of buses in a conflict zone has often signaled an evacuation of combatants and civilians.

The campaign against Islamic State in Syria is now focused on its last major foothold in the country, the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, which neighbors Iraq.
Islamic State is facing separate offensives in Deir el-Zour by the SDF on one hand, and Syrian government forces supported by Iranian-backed militia and Russian airstrikes on the other. (VOA)

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Iraqi Army continues Offensive on Islamic State to Regain Hawija, Anbar

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IS clamed territory Hawija in Iraq
A black sign belonging to Islamic State militants is seen on the road in Al-Al-Fateha military airport south of Hawija, Iraq.

The Iraqi army and its allied Shi’ite militias continue to press for the last pockets of Islamic State in Hawija and Anbar.

In a news conference held in Geneva, on 3rd October 2017, U.N. spokesperson Jens Laerke, said that an estimated 12,500 civilians have fled their homes in Hawija since the start of the Iraqi operation on September 21 and nearly 78,000 people could still be trapped in their homes as the fighting reaches densely populated areas.

Hawija

Hawija is a Sunni-majority city in the al-Hawija district with a population of about 100,000. It had a population of 500,000 before IS took control in mid-2014 as many residents fled the violence.

Iraqi army and allied Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Forces claim the fight for Hawija has entered its final stages as they recently gained a strategic foothold in the district by capturing an air base from IS on Monday. The base, known as Rashad air base, is about 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Hawija and serves as a training camp and logistic base for IS in the region.

Anbar

In western Iraq’s Anbar province, where the Iraqi army launched a separate offensive last month against IS, the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration said it has identified more than 8,500 newly displaced people, raising the number of displaced in the province to more than 54,000 since January 2017.

“People newly displaced from their homes often arrive dehydrated, suffering from hunger and thirst,” said IOM’s Hamed Amro. “Many require psychosocial support and need medical care. Some have chronic illness and exacerbated conditions due to a long-term lack of care, and others suffer from malnutrition. We have also received a few trauma cases.”

Commanders on the ground say IS has set fire to oil wells and has forced civilians who remained to serve as human shields to inhibit airstrikes. (voa)

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Burundi Refugees in Miserable Condition, Assistance Programme Strapped for Cash

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Burundi refugees
Burundian refugees gather on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kagunga village in Kigoma region in western Tanzania. voa

The U.N. refugee agency warns that funds for humanitarian assistance for hundreds of thousands of Burundi refugees have dried up, leaving only enough cash for the most essential needs.

More than 420,000 Burundi refugees, who have sought refuge in Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania, are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance; but, the U.N. refugee agency says it has practically run out of cash.

Only 19 percent of the agency’s revised $429 million appeal has been received. UNHCR spokesman Andrei Mahecic says “hard choices must be made. With so little money on hand, priorities must be rearranged to make sure life-saving needs are met”.

“But, there is a cost, there is a human cost attached to it,” Mahecic said. “There simply is not enough aid to go around. The services are not kept up to the standards that they should be and, obviously, in many cases, we are now facing the situation where shelter is by now dilapidated. The tents would need replacing. Eighty-eight-thousand refugees are still living under plastic sheeting, obviously vulnerable to heavy rains and so on.”

Mahecic says many refugees risk catching communicable diseases, such as malaria and acute watery diarrhoea. He says health care services must be urgently expanded. Because the money is not available, he says only 56 percent of identified survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are receiving the physical and psychological care they need.

The World Food Program, which also is suffering from underfunding, has been forced to cut monthly food rations to 60 percent in Tanzania — home to the largest number of refugees.

The UNHCR is appealing for international support so it can maintain its critical humanitarian assistance for Burundian refugees in the countries of asylum. The Burundians fled their country after violence surged in 2015. Many of them are women and children.