Not only are entrapped families subsisting on a diet of stale dates, but ISIL militants are actively attempting to recruit new members with the enticement of the basic sustenance of life: food.
Following a weeklong advanced bombardment by the US-led coalition on the city of Fallujah, Iraqi forces began to lay siege to the stronghold this week. Iraqi ground forces have been met with fierce opposition and there are still roughly 50,000 civilians trapped in the city, which will undoubtedly be the site of a bloody and protracted conflict. Add to that the wholly disturbing claim that ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is firing upon any civilians seen fleeing, and you have a dire situation.
So what is it like within the besieged city? A small outpouring of refugees, who were lucky enough to escape, have brought disquieting news. They say not only are entrapped families subsisting on a diet of stale dates, but ISIL militants are actively attempting to recruit new members with the enticement of the basic sustenance of life: food.
Since capturing Falluja in January of 2014, the hyper-militant Sunni fighters have been keeping the city's food supplies under heavy guard and charging exorbitant prices for even the most basic of necessities. Twenty-three-year-old Hanaa Mahdi Fayadh of Sijir—which is situated on the northeastern outskirts of Falluja—told Reuters that militants occupying the city began to visit families as soon as food started to dwindle; they offered food, but only for those who enlisted.
"They told our neighbor they would give him a sack of flour if his son joined them; he refused and when they had gone, he fled with his family," explained Hanaa. Since fleeing from Falluja, she and other refugees who sought shelter at a refugee center in the government-controlled town of Garma have said they simply had no money to buy food from ISIL.
The recruiting tactic is a powerful enticement, largely due to the Iraqi government's year-old policy of halting the payment of salaries and pensions to state employees out of the fear that it could fall into the hands of ISIL.
Hanaa went on to explain, "The only thing remaining in the few shops open was dates, old, stale dates and even those were very expensive." Currently, a 110-pound bag of flour costs roughly US $428, nearly half of the average Iraqi's monthly salary. "We left because there was no food or wood to make fires."
Another refugee, 45-year-old Azhar Nazar Hadi, told Reuters and those in Garma, "The last seven months we ran out of everything and had to survive on dates, and water. Flour, rice, and cooking oil were no longer available at an affordable price."
Sadly, it looks as though little will change in the near future for the 50,000 or so civilians trapped in Falluja. The Iraqi military is moving forward with an extremely slow offensive in the hopes of limiting civilian deaths in the face of families effectively being used as human shields.
When food is used as a gilded incentive to join your cause, you know things are desperate, indeed.