x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Anbar violence displaces 140,000, says UN

The violence started in late December when security forces and their tribal allies became locked in a deadly standoff with militants, including those from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

BAGHDAD // More than 140,000 people have fled deadly clashes between security forces and anti-government fighters in Anbar province in what is Iraq’s worst displacement in years, the UN said on Friday.

“This is the largest displacement Iraq has witnessed since the sectarian violence of 2006-2008,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Peter Kessler, adding that the figures were compiled by the Iraqi government.

More than 65,000 have fled in just the past week, he said.

“Many civilians are unable to leave conflict-affected areas where food and fuel are now in short supply,” Mr Kessler added.

Thousands of displaced have fled to Baghdad and other nearby provinces, but some have travelled as far as the northern Kurdish region, according to the UNHCR.

“People are reportedly without money for food and lack suitable clothing for the rainy conditions. Children are not in school and sanitary conditions, particularly for women, are inadequate.”

The violence started in late December when security forces and their tribal allies became locked in a deadly standoff with militants, including those from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

Diplomats and foreign leaders including US President Barack Obama have urged Baghdad to pursue political measures to undercut support for militants, but with an election looming in April, Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki has taken a hard line.

Security forces have mounted a massive operation to retake parts of the Anbar provincial capital Ramadi being held by anti-government fighters, and for days have engaged in clashes and exchanged mortar fire.

Shelling which began early Friday into the Ramadi neighbourhoods of Malaab and Albu Faraj, both out of the government’s control, killed two people and wounded 30 others, security and medical officials said.

Government forces and militants also engaged in firefights on Thursday evening in Ramadi, but no casualties were reported.

But a one person was killed and seven others wounded in heavy shelling late on Thursday in Fallujah, a former insurgent bastion also west of Baghdad that is entirely held by militants.

Fallujah residents blamed the army for the shelling, but defence officials said the military was not responsible.

Parts of Ramadi and all of Fallujah have for weeks been in the hands of anti-government fighters.

It marks the first time militants have exercised such open control in Iraqi cities since the peak of the violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion.

Agence France-Presse