Iraq Forces Arrest 500 ISIL Suspects Fleeing Fallujah
Iraqi forces Monday said militant fighters were attempting to flee Fallujah by blending in with civilians who have used recently opened corridors to escape the besieged city.
More than 500 suspected ISIL members have been arrested trying to sneak out with fleeing civilians since forces ramped up efforts to retake Fallujah, one of the group’s most emblematic bastions, two weeks ago.
“We have arrested 546 suspected terrorists who had fled by taking advantage of the movements of displaced families over the past two weeks,” said Hadi Rzayej, the police chief for Anbar province in which Fallujah is located.
“Many of them were using fake IDs,” he told AFP from the southern edge of Fallujah, where Iraqi forces are pressing a 3-week-old offensive to retake the city from the terrorists. When civilians reach government forces, teenage boys and adult men are screened separately. Some are released after a few hours while others undergo more thorough interrogation.
“Daesh is fleeing among the civilians; we have arrested many and are investigating the suspects,” said Abdel-Wahab al-Saadi, the overall commander of the Fallujah push.
Until last week, up to 90,000 civilians were still trapped in the center of the city, which is one of the militant group’s last bastions in Iraq and lies only 50 kilometers west of Baghdad.
The Iraqi army Saturday opened a corridor to the southwest of the city that has allowed thousands of civilians to escape ISIL and reach displacement camps.
According to UN deputy representative to Iraq Lise Grande, more than 7,000 people were able to flee via the corridor since Saturday.
Yet the flow of residents fleeing via the corridor and through the Al-Salam intersection to the southwest of the city, appeared to dry up on Monday, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Karl Schembri said.
“We haven’t seen a continuation of the trend,” he said, adding that groups of civilians were believed to be trapped in several northern Fallujah neighborhoods.
He said nonetheless that more than 2,600 new arrivals had been recorded in displacement camps Monday, mostly civilians from the outskirts of the city.
Iraqi forces have been making steady progress over the past two weeks, with elite troops dodging suicide car bombs and picking their way through thousands of explosive devices to work their way up from the south of the city. “This is a phase of street battles now, our fighters and the militants are sometimes only 20 meters from each other, fighting with light weapons,” Saadi said.