Thursday, April 24, 2014


Iraq

Fallujah Residents Suffer As Tribesmen, Al-Qaeda Fight On

Iraqis who fled violence in Fallujah collect aid supplies in Karbala on January 9.
Iraqis who fled violence in Fallujah collect aid supplies in Karbala on January 9.

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By Ferial Hussain and Frud Bezhan
FALLUJAH -- Amid the fog of war, it is becoming clear that everyday citizens are bearing the brunt of the recent violence in Iraq's Anbar Province.

For weeks, local Sunni tribesmen and Iraqi security forces have been battling Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the western province. In the city of Fallujah, fierce fighting with Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) has resulted in a tense standoff as army troops encircling the city await word to move in.

In the meantime, Fallujah's 300,000 residents are suffering. Basic services have been cut off and many locals remain without water, electricity, and food.

Umm Akram tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq that militants forced her and her family out of their home a week ago. Akram's family of 14 wandered the streets before taking shelter at a local school that now serves as a temporary shelter for dozens of families.

EXPLAINER: What's Behind The Violence In Iraq?

Conditions at the school are desperate, says Akram.

"They [militants] killed all my livestock. My house has been destroyed. My situation is very, very bad," Akram says. "We have nothing, but some of the people in the neighborhood have been helping us. We have no beds. All we have are the clothes we are wearing. We are barefoot."

Hoping For Help

Akram is among thousands of displaced Fallujah residents.

One man, who did not give his name, said he had no choice but to seek refuge at a school. He says if it were not for his neighbors, who provided him with food and water, his family would probably be dead.

The man says several of his family members and countless neighbors have been killed in the violence.

"The local tribesmen have provided us with aid, such as mattresses we can sleep on," he says. "The militants are in our homes and the shelling is targeting our homes. Many have been killed, and the gunmen are still occupying our homes. We want the government to come and help us."

Anbar's provincial government has claimed that only small pockets of resistance remain in Fallujah and most insurgents have been cleared out.

But Radio Free Iraq correspondents say militants still control significant areas of the city, particularly in eastern and northeastern Fallujah.

The Iraqi military has reportedly given the tribesmen in Fallujah a deadline to clear out the remaining insurgents. The Sunni tribesmen, who are highly suspicious of the Shi'ite-led government, are reluctant to let the army into the city.

'God Bless Our Neighbors'

Some relief has trickled into Fallujah. A dozen United Nations vehicles loaded with food, clothing, and fuel supplies arrived on January 15, and more are expected in the coming days.

But many residents say relief provided by the UN and several other foreign nongovernmental organizations is not enough.

One Fallujah resident, who declined to give his name, slammed the provincial and central governments for their inaction.

The man says locals have not even been able to bury their dead, who are piled up in schools and empty buildings.

"The local government asked us to take part in the elections, but we turned them away," he said. "They have provided us with nothing. God bless our neighbors who have given us food, money, and whatever we need. But the government has not provided us with anything."

That sentiment is shared by many in Anbar, a predominately Sunni province that has been the scene of large antigovernment protests for the past year. 

Al-Qaeda has tried to take advantage of rising tensions between the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Sunni minority, which feels marginalized by Baghdad.

The current fighting erupted after the government arrested a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges on December 28, then dismantled an antigovernment Sunni protest camp in the provincial capital, Ramadi.

Written by Frud Bezhan based on reporting by Radio Free Iraq correspondent Ferial Hussain in Fallujah

Frud Bezhan

Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to bezhanf@rferl.org. 

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