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UN Says Humanitarian Crisis Looms As Thousands Flee Fallujah

Displaced Iraqi families fleeing Fallujah queue for food rations and other emergency supplies at an aid camp outside Baghdad.
Displaced Iraqi families fleeing Fallujah queue for food rations and other emergency supplies at an aid camp outside Baghdad.

The United Nations says Iraq is facing a growing humanitarian disaster as aid workers scramble to cope with a massive influx of civilians who have fled Fallujah since government forces recaptured much of the city last week from the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

Bruno Geddo, a representative of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Iraq, says international aid groups “are scrambling to respond to the rapidly evolving situation.”

Since April 17, when the government declared control over most of Fallujah, the UN says nearly 10,000 families have fled the city to escape heavy, ongoing fighting.

Geddo said another wave of refugees was expected in coming days because thousands of civilians remain trapped by an ongoing battle in parts of Fallujah.

More than 84,000 civilians have fled Fallujah and its surrounding areas since ground operations aimed at recapturing the city from IS was announced in May, according to the UN.

An Iraqi commander reported fierce clashes in Fallujah as elite counterterrorism forces pushed to clear out the remaining militants.

Brigadier General Haider al-Obeidi said during the weekend that IS fighters launched missiles, detonated a suicide car bomb, and deployed snipers against Iraqi forces.

He said Iraqi forces “are still advancing despite the strong clashes."

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi declared victory for Iraq’s government troops on June 17 after special forces recaptured most of the city in a battle that has been going on for weeks.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, an international humanitarian organization that does extensive work in Anbar Province, said the civilian exodus has overwhelmed camps run by the Iraqi government and humanitarian groups, leaving thousands without shelter or proper sanitation.

Karl Schembri, a spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said thousands “without any tents, without any shelter, they have slept overnight out in the open."

Schembri said the humanitarian situation in Anbar Province is potentially "catastrophic."

Since IS militants seized large swaths of territory in northern and western Iraq during the summer of 2014, more than 3.4 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes.

With reporting by AFP and AP
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