Iraqi Civilians Drown Fleeing Fallujah as City Nearly Encircled
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Fighters battling to retake Fallujah from Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group said they had the Iraqi city almost completely encircled as civilians risked their lives trying to flee.
At least four people drowned and nine were missing after trying to cross the Euphrates River to escape the Daesh stronghold city just west of Baghdad, medics and officials said.
The drowned bodies of two children, a women and an older man were taken to a hospital in Ameriyat Fallujah, a town downstream under government control, a local official said. Police said they were looking for nine other people believed to have been on the same boat.
About 50,000 civilians live in Fallujah, 50 km from Baghdad, with limited access to water, food and healthcare, according to a United Nations estimate.
Iraqi forces launched an offensive on May 23 to retake the city, the first to fall to Daesh in Iraq, in January 2014.
People fleeing Fallujah have been using anything that floats to help them get across the river, which is about 250 to 300 meters wide at the crossing point in farmland just south of the city, provincial council head Shakir al-Essawi said.
“They are using empty refrigerators, wooden cupboards and kerosene barrels as makeshift boats to cross the river,” he told Reuters. “It’s totally unsafe and this is why innocent people are drowning.”
Some of those trying to reach the river were killed by sniper fire coming from the lines held by the militants, or by explosive devices planted along the roads, said Jassim Alwan, a police captain in Ameriyat Fallujah.
Essawi said more than a thousand families had managed to cross the river.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on June 1 the offensive on Fallujah had been slowed down in order to protect civilians.