As the situation in Iraq's beleaguered western province of Anbar continues to deteriorate, a hospital in the provincial capital, Ramadi, announced on December 16 that it had received the bodies of several small children who had died fleeing Islamic State (IS) militants.
An RFE/RL correspondent in Iraq reported that the Ramadi General Hospital said the children had been making their way on foot out of the Wafa district in western Ramadi. IS gunmen took control of Wafa, 45 kilometers west of Ramadi, on December 13, killing at least 19 Iraqi policemen there.
Other reports quoted the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights as saying that an unknown number of children lost their lives after their families fled IS in Wafa and took refuge in the desert.
Sheikh Naim al-Goud, a leader of the Sunni Albu Nimr tribe that is fighting IS militants in Anbar, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq by telephone on December 16 that over 5,000 members of the tribe are now surrounded by IS militants in villages west of Ramadi. IS gunmen are preventing the tribesmen from leaving the villages in an area that stretches all the way to Hit, Goud said.
Goud told the KuluIraq.com outlet that the besieged tribal members fear a new massacre by IS gunmen. According to Goud, the trapped families are surviving by consuming plants growing near oases around Lake Tharthar. The tribal leader said that the Iraqi security forces are not attempting to end the blockade of the Albu Nimr tribe.
The Albu Nimr tribe has suffered mass killings at the hands of IS militants. Iraqi officials say that hundreds of members of the tribe have been slaughtered by IS in what tribal leaders have said is a "policy of genocide."
The tribe, which previously fought against Al-Qaeda in 2005, has fought against IS since January. However, Albu Nimr tribal leaders have complained that the Iraqi security forces have not provided them with sufficient weapons and ammunition to combat the militants.
Meanwhile, an Iraqi official has said that IS militants control over 85 percent of Anbar Province. Arkan Khalaf al-Tarmouz of the Anbar Reconstruction Committee told the pan-Arab outlet "Asharq al-Awsat" on December 16 that around 40 percent of Anbar's cities have been destroyed by the militants. In Ramadi, which IS gunmen are pushing to capture from Iraqi security forces, over 38,000 homes have been destroyed, Tarmouz said.
According to Tarmouz, IS militants have dismantled government infrastructure in Anbar and transferred equipment from facilities such as hospitals to areas under its control in Syria.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk