Civilians in the crosshairs as fight to retake Fallujah begins

by WorldTribune Staff, May 23, 2016

Up to 90,000 civilians are being urged to leave Fallujah as Iraqi forces launch an offensive to drive out Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), but that may not be a good idea.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked civilians to identify their homes with white flags as ISIL jihadists have in the past killed residents who tried to flee the city.

Iraqi forces on the outskirts of Fallujah on May 23. /Reuters
Iraqi forces on the outskirts of Fallujah on May 23. /Reuters

“Zero hour for the liberation of Fallujah has arrived,” al-Abadi said.

A former U.S. military adviser in Iraq, Michael Pregent, questioned the wisdom of urging civilians to raise white flags.

“The problem with them [the Iraqi military] saying, ‘raise a white flag so we don’t shoot you’ — ISIL is going to shoot them when they raise a white flag.”

Iraqi TV reported the the ISIL wali, or “governor”, in Fallujah and some of his aides had been killed in the latest fighting. There were also reports of more than 30 ISIL fighters being killed outside the city.

The ISIL-linked Amaq news agency said one of the group’s suicide bombers had destroyed an Iraqi tank and army bulldozer, killing 16 soldiers.

Analysts say ISIL has long been preparing to face an Iraqi offensive in Fallujah and have deployed their full array of defenses, including many roadside bombs and booby traps.

The loss of Fallujah would leave Mosul as ISIL’s only remaining major stronghold in Iraq.

Fallujah has been held by ISIL longer that any of its areas of control in Iraq or Syria. ISIL has held the city since early 2014.

Last month, the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned civilians still living in Fallujah were in danger of starvation, with some resorting to eating grass to survive.

The UN World Food Program (WFP) said stocks were dwindling as government forces trying to recapture the city had cut supply routes, and ISIL had stopped people from leaving.