ISIL hangs tough in Fallujah, fears grow for 20,000 trapped children

by WorldTribune Staff, June 1, 2016

The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) is holding off the Iraqi offensive in Fallujah, leading to fears of a humanitarian catastrophe for some 20,000 children said to be trapped in the city.

“Children face the risk of forced recruitment into the fighting, strict procedures for security screening and separation from their families,” according to a statement released on May 31 by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Iraqi counterterrorism forces face off with Islamic State militants in the Nuaimiya neighborhood of Fallujah on June 1. /AP
Iraqi forces face off with ISIL in the Nuaimiya neighborhood of Fallujah on June 1. /AP

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has received reports of civilians being killed in heavy shelling or buried alive under the rubble of their homes.

Other reports said ISIL jihadists were using several hundred families as human shields in the city center, a tactic they have employed in other locations in Iraq.

Several Iraqi officers told media outlets they expect ISIL to put up a more intense fight for Fallujah than some of the other cities they have lost in Iraq, such as Tikrit and Ramadi. Fallujah is one of only two major cities under ISIL’s control in the country – the other being Mosul – and it looms large in modern jihadist mythology.

The UN said 3,700 people had managed to escape Fallujah in the past week.

“Most people able to get out come from the outskirts of Fallujah. For some time militants have been controlling movements, we know civilians have been prevented from fleeing,” said Ariane Rummery, spokeswoman for UNHCR, adding that many civilians who remain are “being required to move with ISIL within Fallujah.”

Iraqi Sunnis are growing increasingly wary of the presence of pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias in the region. Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani visited the Fallujah front over the weekend, raising the hackles of Sunni leaders in Baghdad. Fallujah is a traditionally Sunni stronghold.

Meanwhile, a U.S.-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters has launched an offensive on territory held by ISIL along the Turkish border that is seen as a main entry point for the terror organization’s foreign fighters.

The advance brought the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to within 18 kilometers (11 miles) of Manbij, a strategic town held by ISIL since 2014, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Over the past 24 hours, the SDF have seized control of nine villages… west of the Euphrates,” the Observatory said.