|BAGHDAD/ AL-QAIM, 12 May 2005 (IRIN) - Families are fleeing the Iraqi town of al-Qaim following the start of an offensive on 7 May by US troops against insurgents linked with wanted terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is believed to be taking refuge in the city. Al-Qaim is situated in the western Anbar province bordering Syria 320 km west of the capital, Baghdad.|
More than 100 families from the town have moved to A’ana, some 75 km from al-Qaim. An unknown number of families have fled to Rawa and Haditha, some 70 km to the northeast, according to Firdous al-Abadi, a spokeswoman for the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS). She added that those people are in need of supplies. “More people are desperately trying to leave the town and according to our information US troops have closed all exit points. Our contacts inside al-Qaim, told us by phone, that there is no power, no telephones and a 24-hour curfew has been imposed,” al-Abadi told IRIN in Baghdad on Thursday.
Residents who have fled the town said many innocent people were caught in the middle of the conflict and had no choice but to leave their homes. “I couldn’t take anything with me as we ran to escape clashes. We have been helped by a Sheikh in this mosque,” Abu Omar told IRIN, as he and his family of four took refuge in a mosque in al-Qaim.
Two abandoned schools and a mosque in between al-Qaim and Rawa have been occupied by fleeing residents. Local religious leaders from the area have been supplying the families with food and water. “Iraq cannot accept another humanitarian disaster like Fallujah again. Innocent people are in the middle of the battle. It’s an injustice against the Iraqi people, especially the children,” al-Abadi added.
The city of Fallujah, some 60 km west of Baghdad, was the scene of fierce battles between US troops and insurgents from November 2004 to January 2005. An estimated 200,000 people fled the city during the conflict.
The main hospital in al-Qaim was reportedly attacked during the fighting, according to local doctors. US forces say they believed insurgents were hiding inside. Eight people were reported to have been killed inside the building by the hospital’s deputy director. “The hospital was the main place for us to receive our patients and now we have set up mobile medical posts between houses to treat injured civilians that have been increasing since the fighting started. We don’t have any medical supplies, as the ones we had were in the hospital,” Mustafa al-Alousi, deputy director of the hospital, told IRIN.
Although there are no accurate figures on deaths, al-Alousi added that they had received 15 bodies and had been informed that another 28 bodies had been buried by residents. A Ministry of Interior (MoI) official said 113 insurgents had been killed since the conflict started on Monday.
The IRCS sent a convoy of supplies to the area on Thursday, carrying food and medical items, potable water, tents and ambulances. The Italian Red Crescent is working in partnership with the IRCS, offering supplies to the organisation.
According to Muhammad Rabia’a, a senior official in the governorate, hundreds of families have moved to the local sports stadium, to escape clashes on the streets of the city. “Most of local government employees had already left the town but people here weren’t informed about it and for this reason they are suffering now as supplies are low,” Rabia’a added.
The offensive, codenamed ‘Operation Matador’ is one of the biggest US offensives in Iraq since militants were driven from the city of Fallujah several months ago.
Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a spokesman for the US-led Coalition force in Iraq, told IRIN that the situation is very delicate as many insurgents who left Fallujah moved to al-Qaim and as a border town, the area is very difficult to control. He added that civilians would be protected. The governor of Anbar province was kidnapped earlier in the week and insurgents have informed his family that his release would only be secured if US troops pull out of the city. US forces have said they won’t respond to terrorist’s demands.
May 13, 2005
The Next Fallujah?
Posted by Mike at 5/13/2005