Amid offensive in Fallujah, civilians face hellish uncertainty

At least 30 people, including women and children, were reportedly gunned down by ISIS militants when they attempted to flee from Fallujah, where the Iraqi military and allied Shiite forces remain engaged in a major offensive to retake the city from the barbaric militant group. The latest ISIS-executed massacre – as well as reports indicating brutalizing of Sunni civilians by Shiite militias – underscores the dire need to better protect trapped civilians in the besieged city and to ensure relevant humanitarian operations are fully financially funded.

As the Iraqi military offensive continues, the humanitarian situation is rapidly worsening and the UN has warned that only 31 percent of the $861 million requested for aid operations in Iraq has been secured. Meanwhile, pro-Iraqi government Shiite militias continue to carry out atrocious crimes against people who have remarkably managed to survive both ISIS rule and the journey to flee the militant group’s strongholds.

UN officials recently indicated they now assess as many as 90,000 civilians likely remain trapped in Fallujah, a significant increase from their previous estimate, which indicated approximately 50,000 civilians were thought to remain in the city. The grim update should add pressure on donors to fund the remaining 70 percent of the UN’s aid appeal and should also underscore the need to escalate humanitarian efforts to prevent the slaughter of tens of thousands.

As the offensive drags on, civilians trapped in Iraq – just like those trapped in neighbouring Syria – face a reality of starvation and a near-death existence under siege.

Brooklyn Middleton

As the offensive drags on, civilians trapped in Iraq – just like those trapped in neighbouring Syria – face a reality of starvation and a near-death existence under siege. But even for people who’ve escaped, safety remains unreachable. Many people who have managed to flee ISIS-held areas have faced utter brutality and torment at the hands of Shiite militias.

The Daily Beast reported that hundreds of civilians from the towns of Saqlawiyah and Karma were “heavily tortured” by the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia group and that at least several hundred other people were “buried alive.” Human Rights Watch also issued a thorough report on recent abuse by the PMF with one witness reportedly claiming that he saw PMF members and Federal Police personnel open fatal fire on an unknown number of civilians carrying white flags in Sajar.

History of brutality

The past history of Shiite militias’ brutality is well-documented and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein seemed to confirm the grave reports regarding the most recent abuse. Al-Hussein stated that the UN had received reports of “armed groups “intercepting people fleeing the conflict, separating the men and teenage boys from the women and children, and detaining the males for ‘security screening’, which in some cases degenerates into physical violation..” He also confirmed that there were reports people had recently been “summarily executed.”

Iraqi forces must act to halt the abuse or the long-term consequences of once again allowing Shiite militias to act with utter impunity will haunt Iraq long after the offensive in Fallujah concludes. As the military offensive continues in the immediate term, it is imperative that aid operations conducted by the UN and their partners are fully funded without delay.

The nightmare scenario of ISIS holding tens of thousands of civilians hostage while Shiite militias carrying out atrocities against those fleeing or coming under their control is underway; how many innocent men and women are slaughtered will be determined by how committed the international community is in protecting civilians and whether Iraqi authorities prove willing and capable to hold Shiite militias accountable for their recent brutality.

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Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about US President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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