UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
IRAQ: Hundreds of families flee fighting in Ramadi
BAGHDAD, 6 December 2005 (IRIN) - Hundreds of families have fled Ramadi, capital of the western Anbar Province, amidst fierce fighting between US military forces and Iraqi insurgents, according to aid agencies.
On 2 December, US troops launched an offensive in Ramadi, located some 110 km from the capital, Baghdad, after insurgents were shown on television in apparent control of the city.
“It was surprising to see hundreds of insurgents walking freely among our houses and asking locals to help finish off US troops,” said Sheikh Saleh Ibrahim, a local religious leader.
According to aid agencies, more than 400 families have fled the city since, fearing that the US-led military operation could go on for days or weeks.
Many families have taken refuge in improvised camps some 20 km east of Ramadi, and in abandoned buildings in and around the city of A’ana, 60 km east from Ramadi.
The current offensive is only the latest to target the Anbar Province, where the US military hopes to disrupt the activities of “terrorists” utilising the area to stage attacks.
According to Iraqi military personnel taking part in the operation, many insurgents from Fallujah, fleeing a major US offensive in that city in 2004, have since taken refuge in Anbar.
“This offensive will prevent insurgents from using the area as a training camp and collection-point for weapons,” Lt Col Hassan Shakarchi, a senior military officer in Anbar, said on Monday.
Some residents who fled the city before the offensive began said that they had received death threats from insurgents who claimed they were betraying the cause by leaving.
“If I stay, I’ll die in the crossfire,” said Ramadi resident Zacarias al-Rubaie. “But if I leave to keep my family safe, the insurgents will say I betrayed them, and I’ll be killed as soon as I return.”
On 5 December the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) sent essential supplies to refugees fleeing the city.
“We’re aware of the situation in the area, and are preparing for the worst,” IRCS spokeswoman Ferdous al-Abadi said on Monday. “Food, tents and medicine have already been sent, but much more is needed.”
She added that the IRCS, which is running low on supplies, was appealing for additional donations of blankets and food.
Al-Abadi described the situation in Anbar province as
“critical,” saying that repeated offensives in the area had caused distress among the local population and affected access to health facilities and schools.
“Many children may lose the academic year because of the need to flee the city,” she said.
Sunni clerics, meanwhile, have expressed concern that ongoing fighting in the majority-Sunni province may prevent thousands of eligible voters from casting ballots in parliamentary elections scheduled for 15 December.
Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs
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