Iraqi families flee amid IS clashes
Published 16/04/2015 | 13:36
More than 2,000 families have fled from their homes in Iraq amid fierce clashes between Islamic State militants and Iraqi forces near the capital of Anbar province.
The Sunni militants' push on Ramadi comes after the Islamic State group was dealt a major blow earlier this month, when Iraqi troops routed them from Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town.
Sattar Nowruz, from the Ministry of Migration and Displaced, said those who fled Ramadi are in a "difficult situation" and have settled in southern and western Baghdad suburbs.
He says tents, food and other aid is being sent to them.
On Wednesday, Islamic State launched an offensive, capturing three villages near Ramadi in what has become one of the group's most significant threats so far to Anbar's capital.
The centre of Ramadi has been firmly in the hands of Baghdad government forces, though some of the far suburbs and outskirts had fallen to Islamic State.
US-led coalition airstrikes are backing the Iraqi troops and targeting the three villages - Sjariyah, Albu-Ghanim and Soufiya - captured by the extremists on Wednesday.
They described Ramadi as a ghost town with empty streets and closed shops after most of the residents had deserted it.
Ramadi and the city of Fallujah to the east, roughly half-way on the road to Baghdad, were major al Qaida strongholds during the eight-year US-led invasion, and fighting in Anbar was especially costly for Americans troops. Many of the militants were eventually forced to flee Iraq or go into hiding.
In January 2014, Fallujah was the first major Iraqi city seized by the Islamic State group.
On a visit to Washington, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made no mention of the events in Ramadi, speaking instead optimistically about gaining Sunni tribal fighter participation in the government's battle against the Islamic State group and saying that about 5,000 tribal fighters in Anbar had signed up and received light weapons.