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Iraq deputy premier warns of humanitarian catastrophe in Anbar - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Masked Sunni Muslims gunmen take up position with their weapons during clashes with Iraqi security forces outside the city of Falluja, 70 km (44 miles) west of Baghdad, February 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Masked Sunni Muslims gunmen take up position with their weapons during clashes with Iraqi security forces outside the city of Falluja, 70 km (44 miles) west of Baghdad, February 23, 2014. (Reuters/Stringer)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—The leader of Iraq’s National Dialogue Front (NDF) and the country’s deputy prime minister, Saleh Al-Mutlaq, has called for an end to the government siege of cities in Anbar province on humanitarian grounds.

A statement issued by Mutlaq’s office said: “Many besieged families who could not leave are still threatened by the bombardment and lack of food and medical supplies, and they suffer difficult conditions.”

The statement added: “Army field commanders must face up to their responsibilities towards the besieged people and coordinate with humanitarian aid teams and open routes to allow food and medical supplies to reach the families, who include women and children.”

Mutlaq warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if those families were ignored and the siege and bombardment continued and humanitarian aid convoys were not allowed to reach them.

The cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in Iraq’s Anbar province were seized by insurgents at the beginning of January after months of mounting tension between Sunni citizens of Anbar and the central government in Baghdad, led by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, which they accused of sectarian bias.

Members of jihadist groups, including militants linked to Al-Qaeda such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), are reportedly present on the ground in an attempt to take advantage of the sectarian strife.

Fallujah and other parts of Anbar remain outside government control, with the Iraqi security forces and some allied Sunni tribal fighters—known variously as the Iraqi Awakening Council or Sons of Iraq—attempting to retake control of the restive province.

According to the United Nations, the violence in the province has forced 300,000 Iraqis to flee their homes, the largest displacement in the country since the widespread sectarian violence of 2006-2007.

On Sunday, Anbar Police said in a press release: “Violent armed clashes erupted between Iraqi army units and unidentified armed groups west of Ramadi.” The statement added: “No information has been released so far about casualties and material losses.”

A member of the Iraqi Awakening Council in Anbar, Faris Ibrahim, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The battles in the northwestern area of Ramadi against ISIS have almost concluded with control over Bou Ali Jassem area, while the areas of Bour Dhiyab and Bou Shaaban are almost completely cleansed [of armed groups].”

He added: “A new phase has started which involves holding the territory by the army, the tribes and the Sons of Iraq, in addition to local police . . . the current operation includes removing mines laid by the insurgents in residents’ homes.

“The problem in Fallujah is that its residents’ fate is not in their own hands and they are still hostages to the insurgents; but the operations there are sophisticated and aim at specific targets.”

Meanwhile, Anbar’s Provincial Council said it was impossible to hold the forthcoming parliamentary elections in most areas of the governorate.

Deputy leader of the Council, Faleh Al-Isawi said in a press release: “It is impossible to hold the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Fallujah, Karmah and other cities in the current tense security climate,” adding: “Those who say otherwise are delusional.”

In a related issue, officials of Babil governorate, which neighbors Anbar to the east, announced they will take special measures to secure territory on the border of the two provinces.

Babil governor Sadiq Madloul Al-Sultani said in a statement on Sunday: “A conference was held at the governorate building on Saturday evening to discuss the security situation in Babil, attended by the deputy leader of the parliamentary security and defense committee, Iskander Watout, and a number of military commanders in the Defense Ministry and the local Babil government, and the Central Furat Operations Command.”

Sultani added: “The conference followed a visit by Defense Minister Saadoun Al-Dulaimi and his instructions to form a committee to visit the governorate and find out the facts about the security situation on the ground and take necessary measures to confront terrorist attacks.”

The governor said the provincial council had requested the deployment of two mechanized infantry regiments of the Iraqi Army, and would “divide the areas between Babil and Anbar with sand barriers, barbed-wire and controlled crossings, as well as building watch towers 250 meters (273 yards) apart.”