The Iraqi army is closing in on Falluja. With the retaking of Ramadi last month, Falluja is now just one of two Iraqi cities under ISIS control (along with the group’s de facto capital, Mosul, in the north of the country).
A predominately Sunni-Arab city, Falluja is located 40 miles to the west of Baghdad. Since the US-led invasion of 2003, its people have felt marginalised by successive Shia-majority governments. This has allowed various Salafi-Jihadist groups, first al-Qaeda then ISIS, to take control of the city.
Strategically, Falluja represents ISIS’ last foothold in Al Anbar province. The problem, however, is that Falluja is home to over 300,000 civilians who now find themselves trapped between two opposing armies. According to a UN report published this week, there are an estimated 20,000 children living in the city.
Even if the Iraqi army manages to retake Falluja from ISIS, the human cost could be devastating. Those who manage to escape could find themselves permanently displaced. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, at least 3.3 million Iraqis were internally displaced as of 31 December 2015.
In the long-term, if ISIS is defeated in Iraq, there will still have to be a peaceful settlement between Sunni and Shia before the country is stable enough for the displaced to return to their homes. Without high-level reconciliation, Iraq will remain fertile ground for violent sectarianism and there will be no end to the humanitarian disaster.
With your support, FRRME will continue to provide emergency relief – food, medical supplies, shelter – to thousands of displaced Iraqis living in camps in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. We will also continue to look after the 500 Christian Iraqi refugee families in our care in Jordan.
The FRRME Team.