Refugees fleeing Falluja, a sad plight

Refugees fleeing Falluja, a sad plight

The UN is at fault for failing to anticipate the tsunami of refugees and receive them with food, medical supplies.

The UN, the US and Iraq have, once again, failed civilians driven from their homes by West Asian wars. The current scandal involves 85,000 residents from the Iraqi city of Falluja which pro-government forces are trying to wrest from the clutches of the Islamic State (IS).

The world organisation had months to prepare as Falluja has long been on the priority list of cities Baghdad has to recapture from the Islamic State before tackling Mosul, Iraq's second largest city which is the most valuable piece of real estate acquired by the jihadi cult.

The US can be blamed because Washington is the great power behind the Iraqi government of Haidar al-Abadi and the trainer and armourer of the Iraqi armed forces. The US diplomats  and military officers serving in Iraq are well aware of the lack of care accorded to displaced civilians from Tikrit, Ramadi and Rutba, previously seized from Islamic State.

The US has offered $20 million in assistance for Falluja and is set to host on  July 20 a conference to raise funds for displaced Iraqis as well at the seven million in dire need. By then, scores of displaced Fallujans  could be dead due to harsh conditions in the camps where they are being confined in the desert.

The cash-strapped, mismanaged and corrupt Shia sectarian regime in Baghdad has  done little or nothing for the 3.3 million Iraqis already driven from their homes, most being Sunnis. Instead, the government has relied on the UN and international donors which  simply have not raised the funds to do the job properly anywhere in West Asia where warfare has generated the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

During the first half of 2016, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees received only $127.7 million of the $584 million required for displaced persons and refugees in Iraq, Syria and neighbouring countries for this year.   

Ultimately, the Iraqi government is responsible for the plight of civilians from Falluja. But they are Sunnis who resisted the 2003 US occupation, the installation of a sectarian system of government, and communal marginalisation, persecution and detentions.

More than 60,000 civilians left Falluja in the space of a few days last week, overwhelming UN agencies and the Norwegian Refugee Council which are trying to cope with a mass of people who have suffered abuse, starvation, and untreated illness during the two and a half years they have lived under Islamic State and many months of siege by the Iraqi army and affiliated militias.

At the camps where they are confined, fortunate families dwell three to a tent, others have to fashion makeshift shelters or brave the sun. The water ration is three litres a day when it should be 10 litres at a time temperatures soar to 40-50 degrees Celsius.

Washing and toilet facilities are inadequate. Few men and youths are found as many have been detained by the army and Shia militias for interrogation which includes beatings and torture. Early this month, 49 men fleeing Falluja were executed and 643 disappeared.

How Baghdad deals with Falluja and its people are meant to serve as a model for the
government's handling of the far greater problem of Mosul, once Iraq's second largest city captured by Islamic State two years ago.

Some 20,000 civilians from Mosul have already fled the city and surrounding villages and a million could become displaced once the Iraqi army and allied militias begin their campaign to retake Mosul.

The November 2015-February 2016 battle of Ramadi, inhabited by 4,50,000 before Islamic State seized the city, precipitated the displacement of the overwhelming majority of residents. They fled by car and lorry or on foot. Some went to relatives who live elsewhere in the Sunni-majority Anbar province.

Displaced Sunnis
Few were allowed into Baghdad where the authorities have excluded displaced Sunnis, citing security grounds. Shias now constitute a solid majority in the capital. Before the 2003 US war, Sunnis counted for 30% of the population. Mixed districts have been rendered mono-sectarian and tens of thousands of Sunnis expelled or driven into exile.

Some 700 families from Falluja have camped out near a bridge over the Euphrates demanding to cross and dwell with relatives in the capital. Security forces refuse permission.

By contrast, Syrian civilians displaced by conflict have flooded into government-held Damascus, Homs, Hama and coastal cities as well as areas controlled by insurgent groups, the prime example being the north western Idlib province held by al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra and its jihadi partners.

Sectarianism has produced different approaches to the displaced. Iraq is a country devastated by sectarianism while Syria, in spite of five years of war, remains, at least in government-held areas where 65% of Syrians live, staunchly secular.

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