June 7, 2016 BBC World News & Sinan Salaheddin / Associated Press
Civilians fleeing Falluja, an Iraqi stronghold of the so-called Islamic State (IS), are being shot as they leave, an aid agency says. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said families it had interviewed described people being shot dead as they crossed the Euphrates River. The Iraqi government has been urged to investigate allegations that civilians detained during the battle for Falluja have been tortured by Shia militiamen.
IS Conflict: Falluja Detainees 'Tortured by Shia Militias' BBC World News
(June 6, 2016) -- The Iraqi government has been urged to investigate allegations that civilians detained during the battle for Falluja have been tortured by Shia militiamen.
An Anbar provincial council member told the BBC that hundreds were held as government forces fought Islamic State militants in the suburb of Saqlawiya. Those released showed signs of severe torture, Sheikh Raja al-Issawi said. Four people died as a result of their injuries and others were in a critical condition in hospital, he added.
Shia militias have been accused of committing serious abuses against Sunni civilians while helping the Iraqi government regain territory it lost to so-called Islamic State (IS) in 2014.
The militias have denied the accusations, but the government has said they will be held back from the final assault on Falluja, a predominantly Sunni city, amid fears of sectarian reprisals.
Security forces and members of the Popular Mobilisation, a paramilitary force that is dominated by Shia militias, advanced into Saqlawiya over the weekend. The town, about 7km (four miles) north-west of Falluja, was an IS stronghold and military sources said resistance was fierce.
Sheikh Issawi said that 605 people detained during the fighting had been taken to the al-Mazraa army base, east of Falluja, on Sunday night.
Those subsequently freed said they had been tortured by members of the Popular Mobilisation during interrogation to ensure they were not IS militants, he added.
Video footage purportedly of the released detainees showed a number of men receiving treatment from medics for injuries to their heads and upper bodies.
"They've intended to kill us. They accused us of being Daesh. I have nothing to do with Daesh," one of the men in the video said, using an Arabic acronym based on the previous name of IS. Another man said: "I swear to God they beat me with a shovel and a baton on my head. They threatened to kill anyone who asked for water."
Sheikh Issawi and other members of the provincial council called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to open an urgent investigation into the alleged abuses.
On Sunday, a spokesman for Mr Abadi said a human rights committee would examine "any violation to the instructions on the protection of civilians". Saad al-Hadithi noted that the prime minister had issued "strict orders" that those responsible for any abuses be held accountable.
The Sunni speaker of parliament, Salim al-Jubouri, has also expressed concern at reports of "violations" by members of the police and Popular Mobilisation, without providing any details.
The mayor of Saqlawiya also confirmed on Monday that security forces had discovered a mass grave containing the remains of about 400 people summarily killed by IS militants when they took control of the town in January 2014.
Jassim al-Mohammedi said most of the victims were believed to be pro-government Sunni tribal fighters, and security personnel and civilians from Saqlawiya. The Norwegian Refugee Council meanwhile reported that IS militants had been shooting at civilians as they tried to flee Falluja by crossing the River Euphrates.
(June 5, 2016) -- Civilians fleeing Falluja, an Iraqi stronghold of the so-called Islamic State (IS), are being shot as they leave, an aid agency says. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said families it had interviewed described people being shot dead as they crossed the Euphrates River.
The NRC, that runs refugee camps near Falluja, said up to 50,000 people remained in the city. Iraq's army began the fight to retake the city late last month. Falluja lies just 50km (30 miles) west of Baghdad and has been held by IS since 2014. It is one of two remaining IS strongholds in Iraq.
Shakir al-Essawi, the head of Falluja's regional council, told Reuters people were trying to cross the Euphrates in refrigerators, cupboards and barrels.
"Our biggest fears are now tragically confirmed with civilians being directly targeted while trying to flee to safety," said Nasr Muflahi, the Iraq country director of the NRC, that said only that "armed opposition groups" were behind the shooting.
"This is the worst that we feared would happen to innocent men, women and children who have had to leave everything behind in order to save their lives."
Iraq's army said on Sunday it had all but encircled Falluja, with only the western bank of the Euphrates not under its control. The latest area secured by Iraq's military, with the help of US-led air strikes, was the southern district of Naymiyah, Associated Press reported.
Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said last week that the offensive had been slowed down to protect people still inside Falluja. Other Iraqi officials have said IS is offering stiff resistance as troops push towards the city centre.
In other developments: * the Agence France-Presse agency reported on Sunday that a mass grave containing up to 400 bodies, thought to be soldiers killed by IS in 2014 and 2015, was found in the town of Saqlawiya, north of Falluja
* at least four people drowned as their boat sank while they were trying to flee across the Euphrates
* the NRC said almost 3,000 people had reached refugee camps since 21 May
Falluja -- Key Facts:
* had population of more than 300,000 before it was seized by first al-Qaeda and then by IS in 2014
* has always been a hotbed of Sunni defiance, becoming a symbol of resistance to US forces in violent battles in 2004
* controls main highway from Baghdad to both Jordan and Syria
* is known as the "city of mosques" -- more than 200 mosques in city and surrounding area
BAGHDAD (June 1, 2016) -- The UN children's fund on Wednesday issued a stark warning to Iraqi troops and ISIS militants in the battle for Fallujah to spare the children, the most vulnerable among the tens of thousands of civilians who remain trapped by the fighting for control of this city west of Baghdad.
Backed by aerial support from the US-led coalition and paramilitary forces mainly made up of Shiite militias, Iraqi government troops more than a week ago launched a military operation to recapture Fallujah, which has been under control of the extremist group for more than two years.
As the battled unfolded -- with Iraqi forces this week pushing into the city's southern sections after securing surrounding towns and villages -- more than 50,000 people are believed to be trapped inside the Sunni majority city, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad.
The UNICEF estimated the number of the children trapped with their families inside the city at about 20,000, warning that they face a dire humanitarian situation, in addition to the risk of forced recruitment into the fighting by the ISIS militants.
"Children who are forcibly recruited into the fighting see their lives and futures jeopardized as they are forced to carry and use arms, fighting an adults' war," the organization said in a statement. It called on "all parties to protect children inside Fallujah" and "provide safe passage to those wishing to leave the city."
On the ground, Iraqi special forces continued their push into the city from its southern edge, said Brig. Haider al-Obeidi with the elite counterterrorism troops. Al-Obeidi described the clashes underway Wednesday as "fierce" and said the Iraqi troops were facing tough resistance from IS militants.
Fallujah was the first large city in Iraq to fall to ISIS and it is the last major urban area controlled by the extremist group in western Iraq. The Sunni-led militants still control the country's second-largest city, Mosul, in the north, as well as smaller towns and patches of territory in the country's west and north.
The fight for Fallujah is expected to be protracted because ISIS has had more than two years to dig in. Hidden bombs are believed to be strewn throughout the city, and the presence of trapped civilians will limit the use of supporting airstrikes.
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