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Iraqi camps overwhelmed as thousands flee Fallujah fighting

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Iraqi camps overwhelmed as thousands flee Fallujah fighting

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A day after declaring victory over Islamic State militants in Fallujah, Iraqi security forces are struggling to shelter people fleeing the city.

More than 82,000 civilians have been taken out of the city since the campaign began four weeks ago.

With fierce fighting reported in Fallujah’s northern districts Iraqi commanders say they must still exercise great caution.

“We must protect the lives of our soldiers. It is better to be careful. Falluja has been under IS control for the last two and a half years, another one or two days does not matter,” said Saad Harbeja from the Iraqi army.

The United Nations estimates up to 25,000 people are now on the move trying to escape the fighting. The problem is camps are already overflowing with escapees.

“The IS militia promised us food, but there was nothing. We wanted to flee, but they hemmed us in. There was no gas, no oil, the schools were also closed. What there was were rockets, air force jets and tanks,” explained one young boy.

The exodus, which is likely to be many times larger if an assault on the northern Islamic State stronghold of Mosul goes ahead as planned later this year, has taken humanitarian groups and the government off guard as its struggles to set up new security.

Unlike other battles, where many civilians sought refuge in nearby cities or the capital, people fleeing Fallujah have been barred from entering Baghdad, just 60 km away, and aid officials not a lack of community mobilisation.

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