Fleeing Fallujah

 In Foreign, Military

Iraqi forces opened up a “relatively safe exit route” from Fallujah over the weekend.  Thousands have used it the first day it was open.

The Norwegian Refugee Council says that at least 4,000 people streamed through the secured “al-Salam Junction” in the first 24 hours. Al-Salam means “Peace.”

Iraqi forces advance on Fallujah- screenshot

Al-Salam Junction

Al-Arabiya reported,

“The al-Salam Junction route was secured after troops dislodged insurgents from districts located on the western bank of the Euphrates river, opposite Fallujah’s city center on the east bank, said [Brigadier General Yahya] Rasool. He did not give a number for the civilians who were able to flee so far using it.

More than 20,000 people have managed to flee the city and its surrounding area since the Iraqi army began the offensive on May 23, the United Nations said on June 8. But the lack of secure routes made their escape extremely difficult and dangerous. At least a dozen people were reported to have drowned while crossing the Euphrates.

Those who managed to reach government-held lines said they walked for days to avoid sniper fire and explosive devices planted by ISIS insurgents along roads to delay the army’s advance.”

Civilians were given until June 14 to flee the city. The use of civilians as human shields was the biggest obstacle to liberating it. Current estimates are that the 20,000 who have managed to get out are only a fraction of those remaining. The displaced civilians braved booby traps and snipers before the opening of the safe exit.

fleeing fallujah

Displaced residents of Fallujah- photo via the Columbian.com

The Wild  Card – the Shia “Popular Mobilization” militia

According to the Institute for the Study of War, the Iraqi forces were able to secure several areas around the city. They effectively surrounded Fallujah on June 5. But right behind them is the Shi’ite militia, which has been pressing to be allowed into the fight. And not everyone trusts the Shia militia, specifically the Sunni population of Fallujah.

ISW reported,

The Popular Mobilization has maintained that they do not engage in “systemic” abuse in the area, however claims of Shi’a militias “kidnapping, killing, and harassing” Sunni civilians, most recently in Saqlawiyah following its recapture, continue to surface. The Iraqi Government cannot guarantee its long-term stability as long as Sunni populations do not feel protected or represented by their government and are possibly more inclined to welcome extremist ideology.

fallujahmap

Iraq has been fighting on several fronts in an effort to wrest their country from ISIS. They plan to launch the major offensive against ISIS in Mosul as soon as they remove the insurgents from Fallujah. But as any United States Marine can tell you, Fallujah is not a battle easily fought.

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