Internally displaced persons, IDPs, take shelter in a building after being evacuated to Al Saqlawiya in Anbar, Iraq from the Fallujah region on June 3, 2016. At the time of these photographs, this region of Iraq was at the front line between Iraqi government forces and ISIS. Thousands of civilians were forced to flee from their homes to avoid being trapped.

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Women carry their belongings down a dirt road to a bus in Al Saqlawiya, Anbar, Iraq on June 3, 2016. These Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, were recently evacuated to Al Saqlawiya from the Fallujah region. At the time of these photographs, this region of Iraq was at the front line between Iraqi government forces and ISIS. Thousands of civilians were forced to flee from their homes to avoid being trapped.

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A woman walks through a camp for internally displaced persons, IDPs, who are awaiting transportation to the next destination in Fallujah in Anbar, Iraq on June 3, 2016. At the time of these photographs, this region of Iraq was at the front line between Iraqi government forces and ISIS. Thousands of civilians were forced to flee from their homes to avoid being trapped.

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Internally displaced persons, IDPs, take shelter in a building after being evacuated to Al Saqlawiya in Anbar, Iraq from the Fallujah region on June 3, 2016. At the time of these photographs, this region of Iraq was at the front line between Iraqi government forces and ISIS. Thousands of civilians were forced to flee from their homes to avoid being trapped.

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BETWEEN TWO FRONTS

Under the blazing sun and blowing sands, we arrived at a passageway used by IDPs who fled Fallujah. Seeing a man was a rarity as most were taken in for security screening. The majority of the displaced were women, children, and elders.

 

The paramilitary units, or Hashid Shabby, questioned the men, as there were doubts about who had ties with the ultra-hardline Islamic State. Families who fled the combat zone had their men isolated and taken by cars to detainment centers near the al-Thirthar lake of Khaldiya. The range of ages targeted was from as young as 16 to as old as 60.

 

During the separation of one of those families, a mother told me while crying that “the Hashid took three of my boys.” When a soldier walked nearby, she immediately changed her tale, fearing for the well-being of her sons.

 

At another spot near the Saqlawiya city center, we met dozens of families trapped between trees and bushes for at least three days. They had been stuck in a crossfire between the Iraqi forces and ISIS fighters. When the media got to them, the families were split into males and females with children. One man had deserted from ISIS a week earlier and was hiding in the fields. The families didn’t recognize him, which placed him in a dangerous situation. A media member who reported to the security forces sniffed his hands for gunpowder and checked for weapon-recoil bruises on his shoulder. The man deducted that he must have been fighting alongside the extremists and preceded to tell an official of the Kataib Hezbollah militia who accompanied them that “this man is Daesh, we will finish him,” using a derogatory term to describe the extremist group.

A week after the beginning of operations aimed at ending the siege of Fallujah, which lies 40 miles west of Baghdad, elite forces launched a new and more aggressive offensive on Fallujah.

 

The Iraqi government cited that an estimated 50,000 civilians were used as human shields in Fallujah as the main factor that slowed military operations to regain control of the city. In addition, aid workers have not been able to reach the city since last September. As a result, the population was living off stale dates, animal feed, and dirty water from the Euphrates River.

 

Hundreds of families besieged inside the city of Fallujah and its various suburbs managed to escape to one of the military units stationed outside the city limits: Saqlawiyah. As they fled, ISIS fired indiscriminately upon them, and they were even subject to the detonation of a roadside bomb.

The United Nations has warned that Iraq is facing a humanitarian crisis if more aid funding is not imminent. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced because of the fighting, and aid agencies are struggling to keep up. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the emergency relief fund to aid the Iraqis at risk does not receive two-thirds of the funding for projects for closing.

 

“Until now, it has received only 33 percent or $ 285 million,” the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Sunday. “The only one-third of the funding appeal, and has already begun projects Closed When IDPs arrive at military camps, it is difficult for the government to know who might be an ISIS sympathizer and someone trying to get behind enemy lines. Many, if not thousands, of men have been sent to detention centers until it can be verified that they are not indeed ISIS sympathizers. In addition, there are credible reports that many men who fled ISIS-held regions were met with cruelty by Shiite militias. The situation is murky at best and promises only to get more complicated.