Tuesday 27 September 2016

Isil death squads 'shoot to kill' as civilians flee Fallujah

Patrick Cockburn in Irbil

Published 25/05/2016 | 02:30

Shi'ite fighters ride on a vehicle near Falluja, Iraq, May 24, 2016.REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Shi'ite fighters ride on a vehicle near Falluja, Iraq, May 24, 2016.REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

Isil execution squads have appeared on the streets of Fallujah, the city 40 miles west of Baghdad, with orders to kill anybody trying to flee or surrender as Iraqi government forces advance towards the Isil stronghold.

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"Groups of Isil fighters are saying they will kill anybody in Fallujah who leaves their house or waves a white flag," says Ahmed al-Dulaimi, a political activist who spoke by phone to relatives and friends in the city.

Iraqi forces shelled Isil targets in Fallujah yesterday, the second day of an assault to retake the militant stronghold just west of Baghdad, as international concern mounted for the security of civilians.

Residents reported sporadic shelling around the city centre, but said it was less intense than on Monday.

"No one can leave. It's dangerous. There are snipers everywhere along the exit routes," one resident said.

UN refugee agency UNHCR said women and children died while trying to leave, but more than 80 families have managed to escape since May 20.

About 100,000 civilians are estimated to be in Fallujah which, in January 2014, became the first Iraqi city to be captured by Isil, six months before the group declared its caliphate.

The population was three times bigger before the war.

The US-led coalition "is providing air power to support the Iraqi government forces in Fallujah," said spokesman, US Army Col Steve Warren.

The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have issued statements appealing for the warring parties to protect civilians, who have limited access to food, water and healthcare and who now risk being used as human shields.

Resourceful residents have begun appropriating solar panels affixed to street lights to generate power in their homes.

The loss by Isil of Fallujah, a Sunni commercial hub on the main road to Jordan, would be a serious blow.

Its capture of the city, so close to Baghdad, at the beginning of 2014 was the extremist Sunni movement's first spectacular military victory.

An interesting development yesterday was a report that three Isil gunmen were killed inside Fallujah, which would be a first sign of armed resistance to Isil by local people.

The Iraqi prime minister Haidar al-Abadi claimed a "big success" by his troops within hours of the start of the operation.

Wearing the black uniform of Iraq's counter-terrorism forces, he said that it had already achieved "more than was planned" as he met with commanders of the Fallujah Operational Command. Earlier, in a television address on Sunday, he pledged to "tear up the black banners of strangers who usurped the city".

Mr Abadi is under intense popular pressure in Baghdad to drive Isil out of Fallujah after bomb attacks on civilian targets earlier in the month that killed at least 200 people.

"Rightly or wrongly, people in Baghdad believe these bombs are coming out of Fallujah and they want the city taken," says a retired senior Iraqi official.

The failure of government forces to expel Isil from a city so close to the capital for over two years has for long discredited its claims that it is defeating Isil. (The Independent)

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