Iraqis who fled ISIS-held Fallujah as government and allied forces advanced on the city said they had survived on stale dates and the militants were using food to enlist fighters whose relatives were going hungry, Al-Alam News Network reports.
The ultra-hardline fighters have kept a close guard on food storage in the besieged city near Baghdad that they captured in January 2014, six months before they declared a caliphate across large parts of Iraq and Syria.
The militants visited families regularly after food ran short with offers of supplies for those who enlisted, said 23-year-old Hanaa Mahdi Fayadh from Sijir on the northeastern outskirts of Fallujah. “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,” she said. She and others interviewed in a school transformed into a refugee center in Garma, a town under government control east of Fallujah, said they had no money to buy food from the group.
The Iraqi government stopped paying the salaries of employees there and in other cities under Islamic State control a year ago to stop the group seizing the funds.
Fayadh escaped Sijir on May 27, four days after the government offensive on Fallujah began, with a group of 15 relatives and neighbors, walking through farmland brandishing white flags.
Most of the 1,500 displaced people who found refuge in the school in Garma were women and children, because the army takes men for screening over possible ties with Islamic State (Daesh / ISIS).
Fayadh said the situation in the city was very difficult. “The only thing remaining in the few shops open was dates, old, stale dates and even those were very expensive,” she said.
Azhar Nazar Hadi, 45, said the militants had asked her family to move from Sijir into Fallujah itself, a clear attempt to use them as human shields. “The last seven months we ran out of everything and had to survive on dates, and water,” she said.
Between 500 and 700 militants are in Fallujah, according to a U.S. military estimate. The Shia militia coalition that is supporting the Iraqi army offensive on the city says the number of ISIS fighters there is closer to 2,500.
The United Nations says about 50,000 civilians remain trapped in Fallujah, which has been under siege since December, when the Iraqi army recaptured Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province to the west.