The Islamic State had prevented civilians from leaving the city of Fallujah as the Iraqi army prepares to invade, but is now allowing some of them to leave, so long as they pay a $2,500 exit fee.
Initially, ISIS officials set the price at $5,000, but quickly chopped that amount in half as the Iraqi army advanced closer to the city, the AhlulBayt news agency reports. Around 600 people have already left Fallujah, which is about 40 miles outside of Baghdad, but it’s unknown whether they paid the fee or managed to escape without paying tribute to ISIS. Other Iraqis are intensely suspicious of these new refugees and think they may harbor some amount of sympathy for the terror group.
Other residents are not so fortunate to escape. There are an estimated 10,000 families still in Fallujah. ISIS is using some of them as human shields in preparation for the invasion, which is starting to ramp up quickly, given that it’s closely supported by U.S. airstrikes.
About 40 ISIS fighters on the outskirts of Fallujah near Albu Jassem village have already fled.
Meanwhile, ISIS militants themselves have been instructed to ship their families outside the city for safety reasons, as leadership is anticipating a bitter and bloody fight ahead of them. Several ISIS militants, to malign the Iraqi army, have dressed as Iraqi troops and killed civilians.
The advance on Fallujah will be precarious because ISIS has laid down IEDs on routes to the city and extensively booby-trapped the inside, just as with Ramadi.The Iraqi army is bringing 20,000 soldiers to retake the city, where only 800 to 1,000 ISIS fighters are stationed.
This latest attempt to seize Fallujah is the third since 2003. U.S. and Iraqi forces have won these battles in the past, but the question is not whether they’ll win the fight. The main question is what will happen in the aftermath, and whether they can finally bring stability to the region and fill the power vacuum with a credible alternative. Merely retaking the city will not put an end to sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shia militias.
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