UN Iraq envoy says there is evidence ‘heinous crimes’ were committed as over 50 mass graves found in former ISIL areas.
Iraqi civilians and officials have voiced concern over the humanitarian situation in the country’s western cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
“The situation is deteriorating every day – the shortage of food is becoming worse,” a member of the Anbar Province’s security committee, Rajeh Barakat al-Issawi, told Al Jazeera. “ISIL fighters are banning all and any aid from entering the city [Fallujah],” he added.
For almost two years now, Fallujah has endured a siege imposed on the city after it became the first to fall to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in January 2014.
Since then, the Iraqi army has placed a near-total blockade, and ISIL has barred any civilians from leaving the city. With only a few routes remaining open, there is a serious shortage of food, medicine and fuel.
Approximately 50,000 of the residents in Fallujah are at risk of starvation.
We could not wait any longer to return to Ramadi, because we had enough with being displaced and living in camps.
Recently, the United Nations described Iraq’s humanitarian crisis as “one of the world’s worst”, saying that more than 10 million Iraqis, making up almost a third of the population, are in need of immediate humanitarian aid. This number has doubled from last year.
In a statement to the Security Council, UN Envoy to Iraq, Jan Kubis, warned of the potential mass displacement of an additional two million Iraqis in the coming months. He called on the international community to provide aid to those in Fallujah, whose conditions were described as alarming.
“The UN is deeply worried about humanitarian conditions in Fallujah in particular, which remains under ISIL control and effectively under siege. Food prices are increasingly exponentially and stocks in shops and households are running out, according to the World Food Programme (WFP) remote food security monitoring,” Kubis said.
The war against ISIL has created more than 3.4 million internally displaced people (IDPs), many living in camps without access to medical care, water and clothes, according to one UN official.
Last February, Ramadi was fully recaptured by Iraqi forces and the United States-led coalition. The city, however, remains in dire need of assistance. Most of the houses have been destroyed, according to Ramadi residents.
While locals say the situation is more manageable in Ramadi than in Fallujah, they have expressed concern over power cuts, the absence of medical facilities as well as the unexploded landmines.
“We have no clean drinking water. In fact, we have no water supplies at all. We returned to our houses as soon as the army took over the city. We could not wait any longer to return to Ramadi, because we had enough with being displaced and living in camps,” said Fallah Khalifa, a resident of Ramadi.
Another local, Mohammed Faraj, blames the Iraqi government for the “miserable situation” they are in. Faraj says the Iraqi government is not doing enough “to help people move back and settle down” in Ramadi.
When ISIL was pushed out of Ramadi, tens of houses were left with landmines and unexploded munitions inside, putting civilians at huge risk. “We have lost 150 soldiers and militia fighters because of the unexploded munitions in the city alone so far,” Ibrahim al-Awsaj, Governor of Ramadi, told Al Jazeera.
Recent press reports described the amount of destruction in the city as “shocking”, pointing to the more than 3,000 buildings and 400 roads that were destroyed between May and January 2015, when the city was under ISIL’s control.
More than 50 mass graves have been discovered in the territories formerly controlled by ISIL, according to the UN. In Ramadi alone, three graves containing up to 40 sets of remains were uncovered in a football field.
According to the UN, approximately 2.6 million Iraqis have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis in January 2014 when ISIL overran large swaths of the country.
Additionally, more than one million Iraqis fled between 2006 and 2008 due to the sectarian war in Iraq, following the US-led invasion and occupation in 2003.
Iraqi government forces, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes and advisers, have managed to regain some of the territory seized by ISIL. However, the group still controls vast areas of northern and western Iraq.
Additional reporting from Salam Khoder.