Refugees who managed to flee the ISIS-occupied city of Fallujah after the Iraqi army advanced said they had had to live on stale dates to avoid starving to death unless they enlisted in the group which took control over food supplies.
Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), which has been in control of the ancient city of Fallujah since May 2014, reportedly kept a close eye on food stockpiles and tried to coerce residents into joining the ranks in return for essential products, Reuters reported.
When people in Fallujah ran out of provisions, the members of the terror group went door-to-door promising food to the families of those who decide to join Islamic State.
Residents couldn’t afford to buy food from Islamic State, since the Iraqi government stopped paying salaries as early as a year ago, when Fallujah as well as other cities in the region fell under Islamic State’s control. The move was supposed to prevent the group from appropriating the funds.
“Life was difficult, very hard, especially when we stopped receiving salaries and retirement pensions,” Azhar Nazar Hadi, 45, whose family was forced to move from the town of Sijir to Fallujah by the militants, told Reuters.
“There was shooting, mortars and clashes, we stayed hidden until the forces came in,” Hadi said.
“The last seven months we ran out of everything and had to survive on dates and water. Flour, rice and cooking oil were no longer available at an affordable price,” she added.
“They told our neighbour they would give him a sack of flour if his son joined them; he refused and when they had gone, he fled with his family,” 23-year-old Hanaa Mahdi Fayadh from Sijir, currently living in a refuge center in Garma, told Reuters.
Around 15 people, including Fayadh’s family and neighbors, left Sijir on May 27 which came four days after Bagdad launched an offensive against Islamic State militants in Fallujah, intending to break the siege.
“We left because there was no food or wood to make fires, besides, the shelling was very close to our house,” she said.
Over 1,500 refugees housed in Garma are mostly women and children since the men have were detained for an investigation that would clarify if they had been involved with Islamic State.
Meanwhile the United Nations has received “extremely distressing, credible reports” of Iraqi armed groups abusing the men and boys saved from Fallujah, according to Reuters. There have also been allegations of executions.
“Eyewitnesses have described how armed groups operating in support of the Iraqi security forces are… detaining the males for ‘security screening’, which in some cases degenerates into physical violations and other forms of abuse, apparently in order to elicit forced confessions,” Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, the UN human rights chief, said in a statement.
Last week the offensive had to slow down so that local residents, apparently used as human shields and trapped in the city, wouldn’t get caught in the cross-fire.
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