Fallujah is a city in the Iraqi Governorate of Al Anbar, located roughly 69 kilometers west of Baghdad on the Euphrates. Fallujah dates from Babylonian times.
Population: 326,471 (2010)
The city grew from a small town in 1947 to a population of 326,471 inhabitants in 2010. Within Iraq, it is known as the "city of mosques" for the more than 200 mosques found in the city and the surrounding villages.
In January 2014, a variety of sources reported that the city was controlled by al-Qaeda and/or its affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS; sometimes called ISIL). On a broadcast of National Public Radio's All Things Considered, Middle East analyst Kirk Sowell stated that while ISIS was occupying parts of the city, most of the ground lost was to the tribal militias who are opposed to both the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda. Speaking on condition of anonymity at the end of May 2014, an Anbar-based Iraqi government security officer told Human Rights Watch that ISIS was in control of several neighborhoods of southeast Fallujah as well as several northern and southern satellite communities, while local militias loyal to the Anbar Military Council controlled the central and northern neighborhoods of the city; however, Human Rights Watch stated that they could not confirm these claims.
On 23 May 2016, Iraqi forces announced the beginning of their attempt to retake Fallujah from ISIS.
As Iraqi troops battle ISIS fighters for Fallujah, the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, said today that at least 20,000 children are trapped in the besieged city.
Lately, Iraqi forces backed by Shia militias began advancing toward the city that has been under ISIS control since 2014.
Iraqi troops said today they repelled a counter-attack by ISIS militants, but they have not succeeded in penetrating the gates to the city yet.
As the battle rages on, the children inside of Fallujah continue to suffer, according to the U.N. agency.
UNICEF said that “very few families have been able to leave” the city since the military operation began.
“According to reports, food and medicine are running out and clean water is in short supply,” UNICEF warned.
Additionally, children face the risk of forced recruitment by ISIS. “Children who are recruited see their lives and futures jeopardized as they are forced to carry and use arms, fighting in an adult war,” UNICEF said.
The group called for all parties to protect children by providing safe passage to those wishing to leave the city.
Fallujah is the last remaining ISIS-stronghold in Al-Anbar Governorate and the ISIS position closet to Baghdad, just 40 miles to the east.
Two Iraqi army brigades have encircled the city for months in anticipation of a planned offensive.
Over 50,000 civilians are reportedly trapped inside ISIS-controlled Fallujah as Iraqi forces surround the town and prepare for an all-out assault on one of the militant's last major strongholds in the country.
The conditions in the city, under ISIS control since 2014, have deteriorated as fighting between the militants and Iraqi forces has intensified in the past few days.
Some residents have been evacuated, but ISIS checkpoints on the main roads has made it nearly impossible for others to flee the city.
The presence of the civilians inside the town, about 45 miles west of Baghdad, may delay the assault.
In Baghdad, Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in the city's Tahrir roundabout. The protesters assembled despite calls earlier this week from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to halt protests so the country's security forces could focus on the Fallujah operation.
The Iraqi forces have been backed by air power from the U.S.-led coalition. It is believed that between 500-700 ISIS fighters remain in the city.
Military operations by the Iraqi security forces and allied armed groups are ongoing and intensifying to retake areas held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Since the beginning of March, approximately 80,000 people have been newly displaced in three areas: the Anbar corridor, the Mosul corridor, and in northern Salah al-Din. Of these, some 30,000 remained displaced along the Anbar corridor and around 3,000 remained displaced along the Mosul corridor, with many others having already returned home.
Humanitarian assistance is being provided to affected people in all locations, though insecurity, strict security screening procedures, the remote location of displaced people, serious protection concerns, and overcrowded camps remain critical challenges.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain trapped in areas effectively under siege – like Fallujah – and lack access to regular humanitarian assistance. In accessible areas, where most displaced people are concentrated, coping capacities of both displaced and host communities are nearing the point of exhaustion as the crisis has entered its third year.
The operational context is against a backdrop of a changing political landscape, marked by reform efforts and public demonstrations. Challenged by a 40 per cent drop in oil revenue and forced to mount costly operations to repel the ISIL insurgency, Iraq is also grappling with a fiscal crisis that further compounds the humanitarian situation.
In early May, armed clashes and shelling were reported in Fallujah district, south of the Euphrates River, in Anbar. Conditions in Fallujah city are deeply worrying. For two years, regular clashes and aerial bombardment have caused widespread destruction, injury and death, while humanitarian access has been extremely limited. The humanitarian situation has deteriorated in recent months, as the supply routes of food, medicine and other supplies were cut off, placing the city effectively under siege. The UN does not have access to the area to verify conditions directly. However, remote monitoring of food prices and availability indicates severe shortfalls. According to a World Food Programme report on 11 April, its sources indicate that food prices remain extremely high and stocks in shops and households are depleting. The price of wheat in Fallujah city was six times higher in March 2016 than in December 2015, according to the report. Other humanitarian sources indicate that there are critical shortages in medicines, electricity, and clean water as well.
While it is not clear how many people remain in Fallujah, estimates indicate it could be up to 50,000. Humanitarian actors have received reports that people wanting to leave the city and seek safety have been unable to do so. In late March, the Government of Iraq said it intended to open exit routes to facilitate civilian exit from the city. There are reports that about 14 families have been able to leave the city and been evacuated to safety by Iraqi security forces; additional reports indicate other families have been unable to safely access the identified routes. Authorities have reportedly instructed security forces not to block food and medicine shipments directed to Fallujah. However, to reach Fallujah, aid convoys would need to cross active conflict areas and areas subject to active bombing.
In late April, the families reportedly received some food, but are otherwise unable to access basic services, living in makeshift shelters, and exposed to the cross-fire. Humanitarian organizations have not been able to visit the site of the displaced and only limited interaction is possible with the representative of the families. Almost six months into their ordeal, the situation of these families remains unresolved and deeply concerning. Despite advocacy by the humanitarian community, the families have not been allowed to cross into Government controlled territory.