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Fallujah, Besieged by Iraqi Army, Faces Serious Food Shortages

FILE - Fighters from Badr Brigades Shiite militia clash with Islamic State group militants at the front line on the outskirts of Fallujah, Anbar province, Iraq, June 1, 2015.

Humanitarian disaster is looming in the western Iraq city of Fallujah, an Islamic State stronghold under siege by security forces, where tens of thousands of people face food shortages, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said Tuesday.

There is no flour, rice, sugar or oil available in Fallujah and the prices of the little food that is left have risen sharply, the agency quoted Fallujah residents as saying.

Fuel and cooking oil are no longer available and the price of a kilo of flour jumped to 24,000 IQD ($20) in January, up more than 800 percent from December, the WFP said.

The Iraqi army, police and Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias — backed by airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition — imposed a near total siege late last year on Fallujah, located 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad in the Euphrates River valley.

"The humanitarian situation in Fallujah is dire and residents need immediate assistance," WFP spokeswoman Marwa Awad told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We are aware that no food is going into the city and that militant groups are controlling the remaining food supplies."

Iraq not seen as priority

It has been too dangerous for the WFP to reach the area since September, when it delivered a one-month supply of food to 400 families in Garma, 10 km (6 miles) from Fallujah, she said.

"We are deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation inside Fallujah, where many people require immediate food assistance," Awad said. "We are ready to help, but we are on standby until ... the authorities give the green light to go in."

Of the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 residents of Fallujah, a "significant number" are surviving on potatoes and other local food, after moving toward rural areas on the outskirts of the city, Awad said by phone from Iraq.

"We call on all parties to allow access to prevent a humanitarian disaster," she said. "Sadly, everyone is focused on Syria and Yemen, and the international community is no longer prioritizing Iraq. That's the problem."

In January, 32 people were reported to have died from starvation in Syria in areas that had been under siege for months.

Fallujah, a long-time bastion of Sunni Muslim jihadists, was the first Iraqi city to fall to Islamic State, in January 2014, six months before the group swept through large parts of northern and western Iraq and neighboring Syria.