The consequences of liberating Fallujah

camp

All photos contributed by Afkar Society for Development and Relief*

In May-June 2016, around 85,000 Iraqis were displaced by fighting during the Iraqi military operation to re-take (“liberate”) the city of Fallujah, in central Iraq, from the Islamic State group, which took control of the city in late 2013.  In Iraq as a whole, over 3.3 million have been displaced from their homes since the beginning of the current crisis.

understaffed

Camps are desperately overcrowded and understaffed, with not enough tents for displaced families.

After fleeing from the front lines in Fallujah along dangerous routes, these internally-displaced persons (IDPs) are now being confined to camps in eastern towns of Anbar governorate, which are subject to occasional ISIS mortar attacks and bombings.  The situation in these camps is dire: they are overfull and understaffed, with extreme immediate needs for shelter, water, food, and sanitation.

children rice

Boys collect grains of rice from a large pot into a dish to eat.

The reason they are confined to such a limited area is largely due to security concerns — these families are predominantly Sunni Arabs who have been living under the control of ISIS for over two years, and the Iraqi government is wary of potential ISIS sleeper cells penetrating areas of government control under the guise of displacement.  As a result, men especially are detained and extensively questioned, and families are confined to formal camp locations in Anbar governorate close to the front lines, without an allowance to move into Baghdad governorate or other, safer areas of Iraq.

In consequence, after escaping the siege on Fallujah and the control of ISIS, these families are now struggling to survive with limited resources in the heat of Iraq’s summer, with daily temperature highs between 110-120°F (43-49° C).

makeshift shelter

With not enough tents, families are seeking shade in whatever manner it can be found.

A recent escalation of suicide attacks claimed by the Islamic State group, including the bombing in the popular Karrada shopping district of Baghdad on 3 July and a combined bombing/gunfire attack at a Shi’a shrine in Balad on 8 July 2016, point to ISIS’s strategic shift toward asymmetric terrorist attacks as it continues to be defeated militarily in Iraq and Syria.  This reinforces the Iraqi government’s perception of newly displaced people as a potential security threat rather than a humanitarian crisis.

*Afkar Society for Development and Relief is an Iraqi non-governmental organization working in Anbar governorate of Iraq since 2004.  The organization itself was displaced by the Islamic State group in 2013-2014, but it has continued to respond to urgent needs with life-saving assistance in Anbar, Salahaddin, and Ninewa governorates (the primary areas affected by the current crisis).