Anbar (Al-Baghdadi District), Asharq Al-Awsat—For the past six months, Iraq’s small town of Al-Baghdadi—55 miles west of Ramadi—has been fighting off Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters seeking to take control of the town.
Asharq Al-Awsat entered the Anbar town and spoke to local residents who, due to the weak presence of government forces, have been forced to take up arms to fend off the ISIS offensive.
Hassan, a 27 year-old farmer who has swapped his spade for a rifle, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I have taken up arms with the rest of the youth to defend our town. I left my work at our family farm in order to fight the militants.
“Everyone here knows for sure that if ISIS enters our town, God forbid, our lands will be lost and our [women’s] honor violated. This is why we are fighting ISIS’s constant attacks through patience, steadfastness and standing together.”
Appeals for government help have fallen on deaf ears and local officials warn that, sooner or later, ISIS will takeover the town unless reinforcements are sent from the capital Baghdad.
“Al-Baghdadi is suffering under the siege. We issued several calls for help. I met the Prime Minister and the ministers of defense and health in person when I visited the capital and I explained the situation to them and they promised immediate help, military reinforcements and food and medical supplies,” Baghdadi Council Chairman Sheikh Ma’al Allah said.
“But we have seen not seen anything on the ground,” he added.
The only support for the town, he said, has come from the commander of the Iraqi Army’s Seventh Division Brig. Majeed Allahibi who provides local volunteers with military equipment.
“The government must respond to our demands and provide us with necessary weapons and equipment in order to ward off ISIS’s repeated attacks on our town,” the Baghdadi Council Chairman said.
The six-month siege has created an extreme shortage of food and medicine, putting the town’s population of 50,000 in an increasingly difficult humanitarian position.
“Food supplies have not reached the city for the last six months, pushing people to consume expired foods. Prices have rocketed. One bag of flour costs 150,000 Iraqi Dinars (approximately 130 US dollars) and the price of one gas cylinder is 125,000 dinars,” Sheikh Ma’al Allah told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“Fuel is a different story. The price of one liter of petrol has reached 8,000 Iraqi Dinars amid a complete electricity outage and shrinking drinking water resources,” he added.
Commenting on the dire health conditions in the town, director of the district’s main health center Dr. Raad Abboud said: “We have not received any new medical supplies at any of the town’s 11 health centers over the past six months.”
Dwindling medical supplies have also pushed up mortality rates among children and the elderly, he added.
“Hajj Atallah, one of our patients who used to receive medication for diabetes and blood pressure on a monthly basis, has recently passed away due to lack of medicine,” Dr. Abboud told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Childbirths, Abboud added, pose a major problem for the town’s health officials who lack all necessary equipment to deal with pregnancies. “We do not have anything to offer to pregnant women,” he said.
“If the government does not find an immediate solution to the issue, I expect a humanitarian catastrophe will be declared in the next few days,” Dr. Abboud added.
“My daughter is due to give birth soon and her condition requires C-section surgery and the only way to leave the town is by military helicopter which transfer civilians from Ain Al-Assad military base,” Um Salam, a 60-year-old resident of the town said.
“Thousands of people have gathered at the Ain Al-Assad base looking for a chance to escape death,” she added.
Despite the dire humanitarian conditions in the town, the alliance of government forces and tribal fighters has, so far, succeeded in repelling a number of ISIS attacks.
At least 36 ISIS militants were killed on Saturday during clashes with fighters from the local Al-Obeid tribe and Iraqi soldiers, the district’s police Chief Col. Shaaban Barzan Al-Obeidi told Asharq Al-Awsat.
According to the officials, military and security forces, backed by local tribal fighters, have deterred ISIS attacks from the northern and eastern sides of the city.
But with the humanitarian situation deteriorating, and fatigue setting in, just how long can Al-Baghdadi hold out?