Anbar, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has converted more than 1,500 schools in Iraq’s western-most Anbar province into military barracks, local sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday.
Anbar residents have also complained of a worsening humanitarian crisis in the province, large portions of which are under ISIS control, amid a lack of support from the central government and an escalating conflict between ISIS and combined Kurdish and Iraqi military forces in other parts of Iraq.
The province’s local education department director, Dr. Nafie Hussein Ali, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “After ISIS fighters took control of most towns and cities in Anbar, we saw the largest displacement of people in the region’s history. This is something that naturally affected daily life across Anbar, particularly education. Our directorate had originally been in charge of more than 2,000 schools across the province . . . But the reality today is that more than 1,500 schools have fallen into ISIS’s hands, which has practically halted education in the province.”
“Despite this tragic situation, we are determined to work diligently in the schools that remain under government control in Anbar,” he added.
Ali affirmed that while large swaths of Anbar remain under ISIS control, including much of the provincial capital Ramadi and the city of Fallujah, there are other areas that have been liberated. He said schools in Ramadi, Haditha, Al-Baghdadi and Amiriyah Fallujah remained open and were still teaching the government syllabus.
“We have also visited refugee camps in the Kurdistan region and established temporary schools there, providing all the required equipment,” he added.
“Eighty schools have been opened in Erbil to teach the children of displaced Iraqis. Students there have even taken their annual exams successfully, and we are carrying out periodic visits to oversee these schools,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
In response to reports that ISIS had been opening schools in territory under its control, he said: “The Ministry of Education has issued a decree not to recognize any schools in territory held by ISIS.”
The head of Amiriyah Fallujah’s municipal council, Shaker Al-Issawi, told Asharq Al-Awsat there had been 75 schools operating in the town before ISIS’s entry into the province, but that only 40 remained open today.
“At least 35 schools have been taken over by ISIS fighters as bases, while most schools have been affected by the ongoing fighting between ISIS and government forces,” he added.
Control of Amiriyah Fallujah, which has changed hands a number of times over the past six months, is still contested between ISIS fighters and Iraqi government forces. The ongoing violence in the town, located some 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of Fallujah and 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Ramadi, has significantly affected government services, including education.
One Amiriyah Fallujah teacher, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, said the number of students attending their school had doubled after thousands of displaced Iraqis sought refuge there.
“Risk is everywhere, and the situation is hard, but we are continuing to give lessons and trying to ensure that education does not completely grind to a halt,” the source said.
ISIS is currently seeking to retake Amiriyah Fallujah, which it held briefly for a number of weeks last year, including launching ground strikes on the town.
“Every day we see a number of shells fired on the city by ISIS, to the point that it has become normal to keep students indoors during break-time for their own safety,” the teacher added.