More than 200,000 flee fighting in Anbar Province

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By Nourideen Hameed

Azzaman, January 17, 2014

More than 200,000 people have been displaced by fighting in the restive Province of Anbar, a senior provincial official has said.

Hameed al-Hashem, deputy chairman of the provincial council, said fighting was raging in the provincial center of Anbar and the strategic town of Falluja.

However, he said, militants of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) were losing ground to Arab Sunni tribesmen striving to drive them out of their areas.

Hashem said at least half of Falluja has been cleared of militants and “hundreds of families” have returned to their homes.

Despite the ongoing clashes inside the town, Hashem claimed life was returning to normal in many parts of it.

In Ramadi, the provincial center, Sunni tribesmen were battling ISIS whose militants were still holding positions in several neighborhoods.

Iraqi army units are not engaged in fighting taking place in both Falluja and Ramadi as part of an agreement with tribal leaders who have vowed to flush their areas of ISIS on their own.

But the government was providing logistics, ammunition and weapons.

Hashem said the authorities were trying to strike a deal with all armed groups to allow Iraqi police corps take positions inside Falluja. However, he did not say whether ISIS would accept the presence of Iraqi police officers in the city.

“In principle all armed groups in (Falluja) have agreed to the proposal and I expect all problems to be solved in two days,” he said. Previous promises and deadlines of clearing the town of rebel groups have failed to materialize.

But Sabah Karhout, the head of Anbar’s provincial council, was less upbeat about the course of fighting.

“Conditions in Ramadi are complicated with ISIS in control of one half of the city and tribesmen of the other,” Karhout said.

He issued a plea of help on behalf of the province’s inhabitants.

“The Anbar’s provincial council urges all people of goodwill to provide assistance to the province, particularly that the number of the displaced has surpassed 200, 000,” he said.

The government has promised to send in urgent assistance and Karhout called on Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki to expedite help.