Iraqi forces enter Fallujah city limits; fear for civilian safety limits advance

 Iraqi-forces-enter-Fallujah-city-limits-fear-for-civilian-safety-limits-advance. BAGHDAD,  Iraqi security forces entered Fallujah on Wednesday though the offensive to retake the city from the Islamic State has slowed amid safety fears for civilians.

A member of the Iraqi Security Forces holds on tight to a young child as he and others assist civilians, fleeing their homes in Fallujah due to the increased fighting between government forces and militants with the Islamic State (ISIS), escape the embattled city on June 8, 2016. Photo by Abbas Mohammed/UPI | License Photo

The United Nations increased the estimated number of civilians believed to be trapped in Fallujah from 50,000 to 90,000, BBC News reported. The Iraqi military’s elite counter-terrorism forces overran an IS-held area in southern Fallujah’s city limits before advancing into Fallujah’s southernmost Shuhada district — about one mile from the city’s center.

While safety of civilians has been a top concern for the Iraqi government and for humanitarian groups, it has not been a concern for the Islamic State. The militant Islamist organization has shot and killed civilians who have tried to flee Fallujah and has used civilians as human shields.

Iraqi Federal Police Col. Taleb Fatlawe told BBC News that efforts to take Fallujah away from IS control have been slowed over civilian safety.

“We stopped to let families flee. If it wasn’t for the civilians, we would have been inside Fallujah three days ago,” Fatlawe said.

The Islamic State has prevented civilians from leaving the city despite a lack of food, water and medicines.

“Our biggest fears are now tragically confirmed with civilians being directly targeted while trying to flee to safety,” Norwegian Refugee Council Country Director in Iraq Nasr Muflahi recently told CNN. “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.”

Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, has been under Islamic State control since early 2014. Iraqi security forces and allies began efforts to retake Fallujah months ago by isolating the city through the recapture of surrounding areas. The formal offensive to retake Fallujah began May 22.

By Andrew V. Pestano