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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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  • Aparna Gupta

    It is a wonderful achievement amid of the Civil war which seems never ending.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Great job by the Kurdish police!

Next Story

Increasing Refugee Crisis Makes it Difficult to Provide Aid to Refugees: UN

Increasing Refugee Population Faces Strained Aid Community

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Refugees Syria
Roughly 1.5 million Syrians live in Lebanon, which has the highest population of refugees per capita in the world. VOA

In his early 20s, Mohammad was a law student who raised bees on his uncle’s farm in Syria.

But in 2013, he faced a terrible choice: Join the military, join a rival militant group, face prison or flee his country.

“What if I had to kill my own people?” he said at a mobile phone shop in an urban refugee camp in Beirut. “I tried to flee to Europe many times. I was caught by the Egyptian secret police, and they sent me to Damascus.”

There are now 70 million people “forcibly displaced” in the world, and their numbers are growing rapidly, according to the United Nations. Humanitarian aid is increasingly scarce, and the increase in refugees “is outpacing the rate at which solutions are being found,” according to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

As more people flee their homes, it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine who is entitled to protection under international law, and who is not.

Refugees world
An urban refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon is plagued with poverty in a country reeling from political and financial crises. VOA

“We need to uphold the refugee definition that is enshrined in the international legal system because it is strong, and we can leverage it in our discussions with States,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said at a Geneva conference on Tuesday. “We are not always successful, but we can use it. But we have to recognize also that many other people on the move have vulnerabilities and therefore need help.”

A refugee’s story

For every displaced person, there is a tragic story.

Mohammad fled Damascus to Lebanon, where he lives in a ghetto populated by refugees currently reeling from political and financial crisis. He gave up his education and left his family behind.

“If I had the money, I would go to a different country,” he said. “There is no future here.”

‘Refugee’ defined

Legally, a refugee is a person forced to flee home due to war, persecution, torture or other types of violence, according to Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the UNHCR, in an interview in Geneva on Tuesday.

Refugee status, entitling the holder to humanitarian aid and asylum in another country, does not apply to people who fled other hardships such as extreme poverty or failed school systems, he added.

When people flee their countries for any reason, they often travel along the same roads and end up in the same place, making it difficult for states to determine who is legally entitled to help.

refugees un
The UN says that there are 70 million refugees, twice the population of displaced people 20 years ago. VOA

“There is a lot of confusion about the terminology,” said Mahecic.

After more than eight years of war displacing half the population, Syrians who fled their homes are generally considered legal refugees, according to the UNHCR. But not all countries agree.

Many officials in Lebanon, which hosts the largest population of refugees per capita in the world, say the Syrian war is winding down, and most of the 1.5 million Syrians in the country are now “economic migrants,” a term that implies a person is not deserving of assistance.

In the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, where many Syrians have lived in makeshift camps for years, families say the war left them with no choices. At one settlement, neighbors say all of their homes were flattened by bombs, and they have no money to rent apartments, even if they felt it was safe to go back.

Young men say if they return to Syria, they fear they will be sent to the front lines to kill or die after fleeing the country instead of serving in the military.

On a good day, some men earn about $6 working informally. But on most days, there is no work, said Mahmoud, a father of a four-month-old girl, in his home made of tarps draped over wooden beams.

“If I work once in a week, how is this money going to cover my expenses like electricity, rent and milk for the baby?” he said.

Refugees conference
Shaza Alrihawi of the Global Refugee Network was one of the 60 refugees attending the 3000-person refugee conference on Dec. 17, 2019 in Geneva. VOA

Policy shifts?

At the conference, Shaza Alrihawi of the Global Refugee Network was one of 60 refugees attending the 3,000-person refugee event.

In 2013, she fled Syria after someone fired a gun into her car, which was parked next to her house. It was a warning, she said.

She had received death threats, but she didn’t know who attacked her car. Rebel groups and the government both accused her of siding with the other.

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Increased humanitarian aid and policy shifts that help refugees get more jobs and education would alleviate some of the difficulties of living as a refugee, Alrihawi said. But the stigma and racism that often haunts refugees is harder to tackle.

“Becoming a refugee doesn’t change who you are,” she said. “I am still the same woman.” (VOA)