The Iraqi army, police and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias — backed by air strikes from a US-led coalition — late last year imposed a near total siege on Falluja, located 50km west of Baghdad in the Euphrates river valley.
The city’s population is suffering from a shortage of food, medicine, and fuel, residents and officials said by phone, and media reports said several people had died due to starvation and poor medical care.
Insecurity and poor communications inside the city make those reports difficult to verify.
Sohaib al-Rawi, the governor of Anbar province where Falluja is located, appealed to the coalition to air-drop humanitarian supplies to the trapped civilians.
He said this was the only way to deliver aid after Islamic State mined the entrances to the city and stopped people leaving.
Iraqis running out of food and medicine in besieged Falluja https://t.co/h9VSdiTtUO— Reuters (@Reuters) February 2, 2016
Falluja — a long-time bastion of Sunni Muslim jihadists — was the first Iraqi city to fall to IS, in January 2014, six months before the group that emerged from al Qaeda swept through large parts of northern and western Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
Since recapturing the city of Ramadi — a further 50km to the west — from IS a month ago, Iraqi authorities have not made it clear whether they will attempt to take Falluja next or leave it contained while the bulk of their forces head north toward Mosul, the largest city under the militants’ control.
Falih al-Essawi, deputy chief of Anbar’s provincial council, said Islamic State had turned Falluja into “a huge detention centre”.
“Security forces managed to control almost all areas around Falluja.
"This victory has helped to reduce Daesh [Islamic State] attacks outside the city, but it cost too much because civilians now are paying the price,” he said from Ramadi, warning of a potential humanitarian disaster.
A doctor at a hospital in Falluja said medicine and supplies were running low, especially for post-natal care.
Spokesmen for the Iraqi army, police, and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias besieging Falluja were not immediately available to comment.