Thousands of families continue to flee the Iraqi city of Ramadi as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group closes in on the capital of Anbar province, clashing with Iraqi troops.
The UN has announced that more than 4,000 families fled Ramadi and its suburbs in the past few days due to the ongoing clashes between ISIL and Iraqi forces, which has turned the city into a ghost town.
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More than 90,000 people in total have fled the city of Ramadi and surrounded areas since the beginning of clashes in Anbar province, according to the UN.
The UN also confirmed on Wednesday deaths among those trying to flee – including newborn babies – due to the lack of proper necessities and harsh conditions. Families have left their homes with little or nothing on their backs.
Riyad Adad, the head of the Baghdad Provincial Council, said that one hundred new born babies died as their families tried to flee Ramadi.
ISIL has controlled the nearby city of Fallujah for more than a year, and captured three villages on Ramadi’s eastern outskirts on Wednesday.
Iraqi special forces were still in control of Ramadi on Friday, after days of intense clashes, according to a special forces commander in Anbar, who said the situation had improved after air strikes hit key ISIL targets on the city’s fringes.
The previous day, an official of the Ministry of Migration and the Displaced said that more than 2,000 fleeing Ramadi residents were settling in the southern and western suburbs of Baghdad, and tents, food and other aid were being sent to them.
Al Jazeera’s Omar Alsaleh, reporting from Baghdad, spoke to refugees living in a building who were only allowed to enter because they were sponsored by the Sunni Endowment.
“The government imposed restrictions on them to enter Baghdad. People who have fled fierce battles say bodies are scattered across Ramadi.
He quoted one woman as saying: “We slept on the streets, in the open … miserable conditions. We left everything behind.”
In other Iraq developments, Kurdish peshmerga forces have recaptured two villages just south of Kirkuk that lie near the highway linking it to Baghdad, according to a senior official of the PUK political party.
A peshmerga soldier said Kurdish forces were using the recaptured villages of Aziriyah and Atshana as their base to push back ISIL from the rest of the region.
Kurdish forces have been battling to retake villages and districts seized by the fighters since last summer.
The peshmerga is the fighting force of the largely autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
The ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, located approximately 250km north of Baghdad, is regarded by Kurds as part of their ancestral homeland.
Iraqi soldiers surrounded and entered the country’s biggest oil refinery on Saturday, which has been besieged for days by ISIL fighters, a senior official said.