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Iraqi people caught in the crossfire of terrorists

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Iraqi people caught in the crossfire of terrorists


The humanitarian crisis of refugees and the displaced in Iraq and the war crimes committed by all kinds of terrorists have worsened beyond any scenaro planned for by the government, NGOs or UN agencies. The recent fall of Ramadi – the capital of the western governorate of Anbar – to ISIS; the military confrontations between the Iranian-backed Shiite Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) and Sunni fanatics of ISIS fighters in different parts of Salah Addeen and Anbar; the daily bombing of the US-led global allied forces; fear of both IS’s advance and potential militia atrocities , led millions to escape into the unknown for their lives, especially after recent Iraqi PM Haider Abadi visited Russia and the US to purchase more weapons for the impending attack.

The civilians streaming out of Ramadi for the last two weeks have created a severe refugee crisis, especially after Baghdad and the Kurdistan region refused to receive them. Thousands of families have been trapped in the desert under the scorching sun- where the temperature reaches 50˚C in May- at the primitive bridge of Bzabiz, when the federal police and the army prevented them from crossing to the main road (under the pretext that there might be some IS fighters among them). They couldn’t go back home to Ramadi after the Iraqi Army and police abandoned it and ISIS took over, and the continuous bombing by the global allied forces of the city. Local TV stations, UN organisations and the media have been reporting heart-breaking stories of families who lost their children, children looking for their parents and mothers crying hysterically.

Possibly the most tragic of those stories is of a father holding tightly the dead body of his two-year-old son, refusing to bury him. When friends and family insisted on burying the child, he threw him into the river in a nervous breakdown. Another similar story reported by Human Rights Watch tells of a man committing suicide by throwing himself in the river after throwing in his two sons, aged 5 and 6.

The UNHCR reported on Tuesday that Iraqi civilians fleeing violence in Ramadi face numerous challenges, including dwindling resources, checkpoints, entry restrictions and security procedures to navigate on their journeys to safet. The police tried to evacuate 2,000 refugees from the bridge area to Amiriyat al-Fallujah, creating more chaos and misery; and in the town of Niba’i, south of Salah Addeen, 900 families were forcefully displaced by the PMUs. Eye witnesses talk about looting of homes, and theft of animals and agricultural vehicles by soldiers and militia men. Similarly, families in the Diyala governorate are waiting on Kurdistan’s borders, facing even more difficulties.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said that there are 15 million refugees in Iraq and Syria living in very difficult conditions, rather an understatement of the horrendous situation in which these people live, where they lack the most basic necessities such as shelter, water, food and bathrooms, let alone the bad treatment, humiliation, bribes and beatings by the security forces. The situation is the worst for the most vulnerable: the elderly, children and people with special needs.

Ramadi’s mayor, Dalaf Kubeissi, and the UNHCR said that the number of the displaced in the city has risen to 114,000. The UNHCR said in a report last Tuesday that 3.7 million Iraqis have been internally displaced in the last decade. UNICEF described the situation as catastrophic while Human Rights Watch stated that “Iraqi authorities are (illegally) preventing thousands of families fleeing the fighting in Ramadi from reaching safer parts of the country. The government of Iraq has primary responsibility for protecting internally displaced people and should allow those fleeing danger in Ramadi or elsewhere to enter safer areas.”

The most recent wave of exodus from yet another Iraqi city (it happened on this scale before in Diyala, Salah Addeen, and Mosul during the last year alone) took place on May 16, 2015 due to the fall of a Ramadi to ISIS, after the Iraqi Army and police (24,000 policemen) deserted their locations, leaving behind huge amounts of weapons and ammunition: tanks, vehicles, hummvees, machine guns…etc. (there are different stories about the numbers, the most common is: 10 Abrams tanks, tens of vehicles, and 6000 guns, apart from tons of ammunition) which IS naturally gained, but most importantly leaving behind shocked civilians watching the armed forces leaving before any fighting. Comparisons are being made between this scenario and what had happened in Mosul last June (2014). Moreover, civilians are caught in the crossfire between ISIS and the sectarian militias of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs); each side accuses civilians of being allied with the other. Estimates suggest between 300 and 600 people were killed in Ramadi on May 16-17, alone.

Different justifications are given for the repeated scenario of military retreat ahead of any confrontation. The MoD puts it down to a poor decision by a field commander; PM Adabi ordered that the officer responsible be court martialled. Certain analysts put it down to the military ferocity of ISIS, their tactics, brutality and the use of car bombs and suicide bombers in military barracks and sites, killing tens at a time. The head of the governing council of Anbar, Sabah Kerhut, among many others accuses the army of cowardice.

Ironically, the US and the Shiite militias of PMUs agree that the Iraqi army lacks morale. This is what the US secretary of defense Ashton Carter said when he recommended that Sunni Governorates, tribes and the Peshmerga (Kurds) be armed – instead of the Iraqi army – to fight terrorism. John Allen, the commander of the global allied forces in Iraq, criticized the Abadi government for not controlling the forces on the ground

Analysts conclude that the scenario of the army’s retreat and militias’ advance is an indirect invitation for the Iran-led PMUs to wage sectarian cleansing war in Sunni districts. Indeed with a green light from the Iraqi and the US governments, the PMUs started their attack on Ramadi from three different fronts, accompanied by the Iraqi armed forces and covered by the global allied bombing on May 26.

The “Lebeika Ya Hussein” operation, a name that holds such a heavy sectarian connotation that PM Abadi changed it officially to Lebeika Ya Iraq, is a bone-breaking battle for both sides. IS has no way back, and the government is worried about Baghdad (110 km to the east). However, the zero hour has not yet been announced, but while Ramadi is now under siege and continuous bombing, ISIS has been shelling the strategic Habbaniya military base and airport killing dozens. Several villages and towns in Aljizeera have experienced severe fighting, destruction and displacement from all sides, and numbers of casualties differ according to the source, but they are in the hundreds.

One of the most tragic cultural crimes is the destruction of an Assyrian archeological site of Al-Shirqat citadel (Asuur Gatt or the gate of god Assur), north of Tikrit, which goes back to 3,000 BC and is registered as a UNESCO world heritage site. The stone gates were said to be destroyed by ISIS with huge quantities of explosives. The UN called it a war crime against Iraqi culture, no less important than killing people. ISIS had already destroyed the ancient city of Nimrud three months ago.

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