Iraqi Forces Continue Assault On Fallujah As More Civilians Flee

Iraqi Forces Continue Assault On Fallujah As More Civilians Flee

The final battle to recapture Fallujah, the Islamic State's (ISIS) stronghold near Baghdad, will start in "days, not weeks", a militia leader said on Friday (May 27), as new reports emerged of people starving to death in the besieged Sunni city.

The first phase of the offensive that started on Monday is nearly finished, with the complete encirclement of the city that lies 50 km (32 miles) west of the Iraqi capital, said Hadi al-Amiri, leader of Badr Organization.

At the end of last year, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said 2016 would be the year of the final victory over ISIS, which declared a caliphate two years ago in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

Fallujah is a bastion of the insurgency that fought the U.S. It was the first city captured by ISIS in Iraq, in January 2014, and is the second-largest still held by the militants after Mosul, their de-facto capital.

Amiri called on civilians to leave from a southwestern exit called the al-Salam (Peace) Junction. But the United Nations said on Friday about 50,000 civilians were being prevented by the hardline militants from escaping.

Hundreds of families, mostly women and children were able to leave the city hurriedly on Friday, with little belongings, and were taken to safety by minibus.

"We left in the morning when the bombing intensified and became so near and we knew that the army, the security forces were very near to us, so we decided to go. Thus, we carried our personal belongings and we left with our families leaving everything else behind. They (Iraqi forces) received us well. They were very good to us and they spared no efforts to help us," said a woman who fled the fighting area as she was sitting in a minibus.

Those who did manage to flee the city reported shortages of food and soaring prices of staple including flour and rice.

"We've been trapped for three years. We ate rotten dates and they (IS militants) moved us from one area to another. We drank hot water and ate unfresh food and we were content and we thank God. We only want an end to our plight. Do you believe that the price of a sack of flour (50 kilos) reached 1,250,000 (Iraqi dinars) (1000 dollars), a handful of rice is sold at 50,000 (Iraqi dinars) (40 dollars) and it is hard to find," said a woman from Fallujah who managed to flee on Friday.