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Iraq Displacement Grows as Fighting Escalates

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Iraqi Security forces preparing to attack al-Qaida positions in Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq. Militants, many from the al-Qaida-breakaway group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, overran Fallujah and parts of Anbar’s capital, Ramadi.

FILE - Iraqi Security forces preparing to attack al-Qaida positions in Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq. Militants, many from the al-Qaida-breakaway group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, overran Fallujah and parts of Anbar’s capital, Ramadi.

The U.N. refugee agency reports growing numbers of Iraqis are fleeing fighting, which is raging in Anbar province. The UNHCR said the deteriorating security situation in this troubled region is making it more difficult for aid agencies to reach those in need Saturday’ s attack by Iraqi militants on Anbar University in the city of Ramadi is the most recent in three days of violence by Islamist extremists.

It follows raids in the cities of Mosul and Samarra. The deadly assault in Ramadi by militants who killed three guards and seized dozens of students as hostages highlights the chaotic situation enveloping Anbar province for months.

The U.N. refugee agency said the growing violence in this Sunni dominated province is creating a displacement crisis. It estimates nearly half-a-million people have fled their homes since fighting between Shia-led government forces and Sunni rebels in eastern Anbar escalated in January.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said people flee according to the shifting waves of fighting. For example, he says last month some 72,000 Iraqis were forced to flee their homes when militants deliberately breached a dam in Anbar s Abu Ghraib district.

The floodwaters have subsided, and people are returning to their homes. There are now health and recovery worries. Access to clean water is a pressing concern, because the flooding damaged water treatment plants.

Local officials said 28 tanker trucks loaded with potable water are being delivered to the area each day, but this is only meeting about 50 percent of needs said Edwards.

Edwards said the UNHCR is bracing for a possible exodus of people from the city of Fallujah, which recently came under shelling. He said the attack hit a hospital and water plant, making life in the city very difficult U.N. aid workers report tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens have fled Anbar province and are spread throughout the country.

They say large concentrations of displaced people are found in Salah al-Din, an autonomous Sunni-governorate north of Baghad.

Others are in Erbil, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah in Kurdistan, and in the capital, Baghdad Edwards said many of the displaced are struggling to cope in desperate conditions.

The more fortunate are living with friends and relatives, others though are in tents, schools, unfinished buildings, other types of communal shelter.

In Anbar governorate alone, almost two-thirds of the 300,000 people displaced there are living in schools, he explained. people are telling us that housing stock is limited, becoming increasingly expensive. Most people are without income. People are going into debt to pay for essential needs.

Families say access to housing and food is really their top priority. Edwards said the UNHCR has provided emergency relief kits and other items to more than 40,000 people as well as cash assistance to 2,500 of the most vulnerable. But, he noted this is only a fraction of what is needed He said the agency would like to urgently ramp up its humanitarian operation, but cannot because it only has received 12 percent of its $26.4 million appeal.
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