Fallujah - Navigating through hell

Residents of Fallujah face starvation or death at the hands of DAESH if they attempt to flee the city.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Residents who fled their homes due to the fighting in Fallujah gather on the outskirts of the city.

Amiriyat al Fallujah is roughly 30km south of Fallujah, the scene of the most intense fighting between Iraqi forces and DAESH since a full-scale operation began on May 23.

Iraqi forces entered Fallujah, one of the last strongholds of DAESH terrorists in Iraq, on Monday but as the explosions continue to drown out the human voices, harrowing accounts of fleeing residents have finally started to emerge.

For the inhabitants of Fallujah, Amiriyat al Fallujah represents a new beginning even as they remain within an earshot of the gunfire and shelling which only breaks for reloads.

Amiriyat houses one of the many displacement camps which have been set up around Fallujah with the hope that the estimated 50,000 residents trapped inside the city would find immediate relief from the crossfire, provided they manage to make it out.

One that sticks out and perhaps defines the dire situation within Fallujah is of a mother drowning herself and her children because the starving family was 'staring at death', the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) was told.

Navigating through hell

Brutal amputations, executions and IEDs planted by DAESH to prevent residents from escaping have made the roughly 33,000-yard journey hell, people who have been fortunate enough to escape said. 

Bodies remain strewn across streets as a reminder to those attempting to leave.

Close to 3,000 residents have managed to flee Fallujah over the past week, NRC, which is tending to the displaced families at the Amiriyat camp, says.

One resident, Ahmad Sabih, who escaped with his family, says people who were not aware of the safe passages out were caught and executed by DAESH.

"You have to try to pick a clear road but those who didn't know their way very well got killed," AFP quoted the 40-year-old father, who reached the camp at 4:00 am, as saying

"I just decided to risk everything. I was either going to save my children or die with my children."

A displaced Iraqi woman stands outside a tent at a newly-opened camp in the government-held town of Amriyat al-Fallujah. - AFP

According to NRC's Becky Bakr Abdulla, the residents are either faced with starvation or death at the hands of DAESH if they attempt to flee.

The city is a maze, dotted with IEDs in some parts and manned by DAESH in the other. It is like navigating through hell.

With no food, water, electricity or fuel, there aren't too many options.

One family hid in huge drain pipes for hours and walked barefoot to cross a checkpoint out of the city, where they had to raise white flags to avoid being shot by Iraqi forces.

Food - a distant memory

At the camp, about 200 families have finally found some relief - and some rice.

With little or no food supplies, people have had to improvise, grinding date stones to make flour and drinking water out of rivers and pools. In the safety of the camp, families have finally been able to sleep and get a meal.

"We had been dreaming of this. I wasn't sure rice existed anymore, so when we saw this plate, we couldn't believe it," an elderly woman, who arrived with her relatives after walking throughout the night, tells AFP.

Another elderly woman Rasmiya Abbas says DAESH 'kept the good food for themselves.'

An Iraqi boy sleeps inside a tent at the camp.


"A bag of sugar lately was around 50,000 dinars ($40). For the rice, they sometimes gave a quarter of a kilo, barely enough to make a meal for the children," she says.

"We only had that dark barley bread. If you saw it, you wouldn't eat it. DAESH kept the rice, the good bread and all the best things for themselves," she adds.

Maher Sabih, a middle-aged man, says he has lost over 32 kilos, after being trapped in Fallujah.

Iraqi forces enter the streets of Fallujah

The camps have provided much-needed relief for the people, albeit temporarily. They may be placed in camps for the displaced for a while. But according to reports on Monday, Iraqi forces had begun to push into the streets of Fallujah, a sign that they had managed to break down the initial resistance of DAESH.

"Iraqi forces entered Fallujah under air cover from the international coalition, the Iraqi Air Force and Army Aviation, and supported by artillery and tanks," Lieutenant General Abdelwahab al Saadi, the commander of the operation, was quoted as saying by AFP

"CTS forces, the Anbar (provincial) police and the Iraqi Army, at around 4:00 am (0100 GMT), started moving into Fallujah from three directions," he said.

The offensive initially focussed on retaking villages and rural areas held by DAESH, but Iraqi forces are slowly making their way to the main streets.

The advance poses a great risk to the civilians trapped inside the city, with aid agencies warning that the residents could be used as human shields by DAESH.

"Our resources in the camps are now very strained and with many more expected to flee we might not be able to provide enough drinking water for everyone," said Nasr Muflahi, the Norwegian Refugee Council's Iraq director.

"We expect bigger waves of displacement the fiercer the fighting gets."

Just 30km from the carnage, families at the camp are finding solace in the temporary calm they are experiencing.

It is a world away from what they have been through so far.​

TRTWorld and agencies