Iraq arrests 500 IS suspects fleeing Fallujah with civilians
June 13 2016 07:45 PM
Displaced Iraqis who were evacuated from their villages by Iraqi government forces
Displaced Iraqis who were evacuated from their villages by Iraqi government forces south of the besieged Islamic State (IS) group bastion of fallujah arrive at a safe zone in Subayat during a military operation to retake territory from the jihadists.

AFP /Fallujah

 Iraqi forces on Monday said jihadist fighters were attempting to flee Fallujah by blending in with civilians who have used recently opened corridors to escape the besieged the city.
More than 500 suspected Islamic State members have been arrested trying to sneak out with fleeing civilians since forces ramped up efforts to retake Fallujah, one of the group's most emblematic bastions, two weeks ago.
"We have arrested 546 suspected terrorists who had fled by taking advantage of the movements of displaced families over the past two weeks," said Hadi Rzayej, the police chief for Anbar province in which Fallujah is located.
"Many of them were using fake IDs," he told AFP from the southern edge of Fallujah, where Iraqi forces are pressing a three-week-old offensive to retake the city from IS.
When civilians reach government forces, teenage boys and adult men are screened separately. Some are released after a few hours while others undergo more thorough interrogation.
"Daesh (IS) is fleeing among the civilians, we have arrested many and are investigating the suspects," said Abdelwahab al-Saadi, the overall commander of the three-week-old Fallujah operation.
Until last week, an estimated 50,000 civilians were still trapped in the centre of the city, which is one of the jihadist group's last bastions in Iraq and lies only 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Baghdad.
The Iraqi army on Saturday opened a corridor to the southwest of the city that has allowed thousands of civilians to escape IS rule and reach displacement camps.
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, that runs several of them in Amriyat al-Fallujah, south of Fallujah, more than 4,000 people were able to flee via the corridor on Saturday and Sunday.

Street battles

Yet the flow of residents fleeing via the corridor and through the Al-Salam intersection to the southwest of the city, appeared to dry up on Monday, the NRC's Karl Schembri said.
"We haven't seen a continuation of the trend," he said, adding that groups of civilians were believed to be trapped in several northern Fallujah neighbourhoods.
He said nonetheless that more than 2,600 new arrivals had been recorded in displacement camps on Monday, mostly civilians from the outskirts of the city.
Estimates for the number of IS fighters holed up in Fallujah vary from 1,000 to 2,500.
Iraqi forces have been making slow but steady progress over the past two weeks, with elite troops dodging suicide car bombs and picking their way through thousands of explosive devices to work their way up from the south of the city.
"This is a phase of street battles now, our fighters and the militants are sometimes only 20 metres from each other, fighting with light weapons," said Saadi.
A vast offensive was launched on May 22-23 to retake Fallujah, with a first phase, involving Shiite militias, aimed at sealing the siege of the city.
While offensives on other cities such as Ramadi or Tikrit often offered enemy fighters an escape, Fallujah is almost completely cut off from the rest of IS's self-proclaimed "caliphate".
"Some fighters can flee under the cover of darkness, but only on foot and with no logistics and definitely not in convoys," said Saadi.
As he surveyed the results of air strikes by the US-led coalition from a rooftop, he also listened in on radio conversations between IS fighters.
Saadi said his men's monitoring of IS communications suggests the jihadists are low on supplies.



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