UNICEF: 20,000 children trapped as Iraq, Islamic State battle for Fallujah

UNICEF-20000-children-trapped-as-Iraq-Islamic-State-battle-for-Fallujah.   BAGHDAD,  UNICEF warns 20,000 children are trapped in the fierce battle between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State in Fallujah, where food, water and medicine is running out.

Iraqi soldiers with the 4th Battalion, 23rd Iraqi Army Brigade, practice searching a detainee during a skills evaluation at Camp Taji, Iraq, on March 28. The army, as part of a coalition, began an offensive to retake Fallujah from the Islamic State on May 23. UNICEF warns that about 20,000 children are trapped in Fallujah as Iraqi security forces and the Islamic State wage war for control of the city. File Photo by Sgt. Paul Sale/U.S. Army/UPI | License Photo

The Iraqi security forces’ offensive to retake Fallujah, supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, began May 23. Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, has been under Islamic State control since early 2014.

“As the violence continues to escalate in Fallujah and across Iraq, we are concerned over the protection of children in the face of extreme and rising danger,” Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Iraq, said in a statement. “Since the start of the military operation in Fallujah … very few families have been able to leave. Most have moved to two camps while others have sought refuge with relatives and extended families.

Hawkins said UNICEF urges the warring factions to protect children and civilians in Fallujah and to provide safe passage to families who want to leave the city. The Islamic State has reportedly killed civilians as they attempted to flee the city. Fleeing families have reported the Islamic State has used civilian hostages as human shields.

About 625 families reportedly escaped the Fallujah fighting in the past week. About 500 men and boys over the age of 12 have been held for security screenings. The United Nations previously estimated about 10,000 families were trapped inside the city.

“UNICEF estimates that at least 20,000 children remain trapped in the city. According to reports, food and medicine are running out and clean water is in short supply,” Hawkins said. “Children face the risk of forced recruitment into the fighting, strict procedures for security screening and separation from their families. Children who are recruited see their lives and futures jeopardized as they are forced to carry and use arms, fighting in an adult war.”

By Andrew V. Pestano