Refugees' 'summer of discontent' after Islamic State takes Ramadi: U.N.
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Aid groups working close to the Iraqi city of Ramadi, seized by Islamic State militants at the weekend, described on Tuesday the humanitarian plight of civilians fleeing the city, which is just 110 km (70 miles) northwest of Baghdad. Civilians forced to flee face a "summer of discontent," Lise Grande, the U.N.'s Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that the violence in the city, capital of Anbar province, had displaced more than 40,000 people since Friday. Refugees have fled to towns just east of Ramadi, according to the IOM and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). People trying to enter the Baghdad governorate further east are being prevented from doing so by security forces, the NRC said. Islamic State fighters who overran Ramadi on Sunday tightened their grip on the city, flying black flags on buildings and freeing prisoners in a drive to win the support of residents. Witnesses said the black flag of Islamic State was now flying over the main mosque, government offices and other prominent buildings. “My understanding is that most civilians have fled," said Grande. Refugees who find shelter in camps outside Ramadi should not be forced to stay there long as the situation is "deteriorating quite rapidly," Nasr Muflahi, the NRC's Iraq country director, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The IOM and UNICEF, the United Nations' children's fund, have distributed over 40,000 rapid response kits over the past week, eaching containing a plastic bucket, water bottles and a hygiene kit. "It is difficult to provide for my four children in such circumstances. The picture was bleak until we got these relief supplies," the IOM reported Ahmed Kahtan, a recipient, as saying. After Ramadi fell on Sunday, Shi'ite militiamen in armored vehicles deployed to a nearby base in preparation for a counter-attack to retake the city. Islamic State's seizure of Ramadi will delay an advance by Iraqi forces against the Sunni fundamentalist group in Mosul, where militants celebrated victory in Anbar by firing into the air, sounding car horns and playing Islamic anthems, residents said. "Anbar will probably remain the epicenter of violence with waves of mass displacement expected in 2015," the NRC said in a statement. "Urgent humanitarian action is necessary". (Reporting By Joseph D'Urso; Editing by Tim Pearce)