In Iraq, thousands flee Fallujah and raise questions for Mosul

Over 60,000 civilians have fled the besieged Iraqi city of Fallujah in the last week and are arriving in refugee camps to no tents, little water, and more death. Government officials and aid organizations are saying the lack of resources is due to the unprecedented numbers of people fleeing the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) , but the overall response is not a good sign for the next major offensive on the much larger city of Mosul by Iraq’s military and the Kurdish peshmerga.

According to a May 25th UN statement encouraging aid and protection for those fleeing Fallujah, it was believed that at least 50,000 people remained in the city of Fallujah. While that reveals a shortfall of at least 10,000 unaccounted for civilians, the same statement said that humanitarian partners had been “gearing up for weeks to provide protection, shelter, water, health care and food assistance to people fleeing the city.”

“We’ve already begun providing people with food, water and shelter as they arrive and we’ll be there as more people arrive,” said Lisa Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, in the statement.

Those preparations still left agencies scrambling to respond and thousands of civilians without water, food, or proper shelter. Situations are sure to worsen as temperatures rise and more civilians escape Fallujah. While Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory after special forces recaptured the city center of Fallujah, at least 20 percent of the city is still under ISIS control.

The fight for Mosul is expected to displace between 600,000 and 1.2 million people. While organizations and the government say they are prepared to receive the civilians fleeing the ISIS stronghold, the conditions in Fallujah hint otherwise.

The city of Telskof is just one of the front lines 34 km from Mosul that is sure to get hit with civilians fleeing the impending Mosul operation. So far, little to no families have come through Telskof from ISIS territories, but authorities claim they are ready all the same.

The Asayish, or rather the intelligence agency operating in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, claim that roughly 40,000 civilians will make their way through Telskof once the Mosul operation against ISIS begins.

However, an off the record interview with an Asayish officer in Telskof revealed that their readiness is reliant on the rate at which civilians make their way to Telskof.

“If it’s 50,000 people, there will be no way to check and control the civilians as they come,” he said.

The Asayish have a database of people who are working for ISIS that is used to screen the civilians as they cross into the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) territory.

“If anyone comes from Mosul who is ISIS, they will go to a camp,” said the Asayish officer.

Even those who make it through the Asayish checkpoint will face harrowing conditions similar if not worse than those in Fallujah. They will be crossing into Yazidi villages such as Doghat and Hatara.

In recent months, these villages have seen a mass exodus as Yazidis migrate to Europe. Despite being half empty, they are facing a water shortage. The villages’ main water supply previously came from Mosul, but has been cut off ever since ISIS occupied the city in 2014.

When asked if they will accept and help the civilians fleeing Mosul, most civilians in this area say they will accept Shias but no Sunnis. Given the Sunni-majority demographic of Mosul, this presents yet another daunting obstacle in the forthcoming Mosul liberation operation.

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