Monday, June 27, 2016

IRAQ - Fighting ISIS

"Dire circumstances for Iraqis fleeing Fallujah fighting" PBS NewsHour 6/20/2016


SUMMARY:  The campaign to drive the Islamic State from Fallujah is advancing much more swiftly than anticipated, with much of the city already retaken.  But this success offers little comfort to the tens of thousands of residents who have been forced into the desert by the fighting and live without basic amenities.  Special correspondent Jane Arraf joins Judy Woodruff to describe their situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The offensive to retake the city of Fallujah, held by ISIS for more than two years, is proceeding much more quickly than anticipated.  But tens of thousands of its residents have been forced by the fighting into the desert, as temperatures soar, without services, or even water in many cases.

We turn to special correspondent Jane Arraf.  She's in Baghdad now, where she is on assignment for The Christian Science Monitor.

Jane, you were just in Fallujah yesterday.  And is it the case this operation has been going much faster than expected?

JANE ARRAF (The Christian Science Monitor):  Well, Judy, it has been going faster certainly than some of the previous operations, including the battle for the provincial capital Anbar.

But I think we have to remember that Fallujah is a different case.  Fallujah had up to 100,000 people in it.  And it was where ISIS first came into, where they tried to persuade Iraqis that they were a better alternative than the Iraqi government.

They didn't lay the land mines, they didn't lay the improvised explosives the same way that they riddled other cities with.  It was actually faster for the special forces that we were with to actually go through there and fight.

Having said that, they have not in fact liberated Fallujah, in the sense that the Iraqi government likes to say that they have.  Now, Iraqi special forces, including the commander, who we spoke with, says that they have now cleared 75 percent of the city.

American military sources say they think that's closer to 25 percent.  And they say that the effort is continuing.  But as it's continuing, as you pointed out, there is absolute tragedy on the outskirts of Fallujah with all these civilians trying to flee.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, tell us about that.  Who stayed in Fallujah when ISIS had control, and what's happening to those people?

JANE ARRAF:  A lot of people did leave at the beginning, but then a lot of people stayed for a variety of reasons.

And when it got to two years in, essentially, they weren't allowed to leave.  So, the people that I was speaking with, mostly women and children, because they were separated from their husbands and their brothers as the Iraqi security forces tried to weed out suspected ISIS fighters from civilians fleeing, were telling us, were telling me that they had been without real food for weeks on end.

Now, as the siege of Fallujah intensified, ISIS itself started running out of food, and it started giving food only to those tribes, those families that were loyal to it.  So, groups of women who I spoke with said that they had been living on the only thing they could afford, which was basically dried dates that were meant for animal feed.

They weren't allowed to leave the city.  If they could leave the city, it was through bribery.  And at this point, people just don't have the money.  So, they basically stayed, Judy, because they had to stay.  It is when ISIS was driven back and the floodgates opened and up to 80,000 people fled over the past three days, just last week, that things got really dire.

Some people were actually killed trying to leave.  I met a man with the remainder of his family in an ambulance in Fallujah being evacuated by Iraqi security forces who has lost three of his daughters and his wife.  As they were leaving, they were hit by either a mortar or a rocket.

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