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Tuesday afternoon, a Fallujah man – a friend and rare source of impartial information on the five months of fighting in Anbar province – phoned me. He had fled Fallujah in early February because of the ongoing shelling of the city by the Iraqi army. He often told me of his family’s anguished decision to leave their home, and the terror they experienced as mortars rained down on residential neighborhoods.

His call yesterday was not the usual update. He told me that his oldest brother, Ammar, who had also fled Fallujah, recently returned to the city with his wife and daughter when they ran out of money and food. Yesterday, two days after arriving, a mortar strike killed him. He was riding his bike to buy groceries, his brother told me. 

Iraq’s army and SWAT forces have yet to enter Fallujah in their battle against an array of Sunni armed groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS). But their mortars fired from a military base outside the city and missiles fired from helicopters have caused at least 80 percent of the city’s population to flee. Hospital employees have told me that most of the dead and injured in these strikes were ordinary people like Ammar.

Iraq’s prime minister and defense ministry have numerous times threatened to enter Fallujah to rout the anti-government fighters. On Tuesday, a government source told me that 3,500 soldiers and 750 pro-government militia members had begun a military assault on towns that surround Fallujah (Garma, Ibrahim Ali, Saqlawiyya, Awayasat, and Dowleiba), and appeared poised to enter the city.

Information out of Anbar gives a sketchy outline of the fighting. Journalists say they are blocked from entering the province. The government is hindering people from leaving and humanitarian aid from getting in. Brave residents and hospital employees write to Human Rights Watch on Facebook almost daily to get information out.

Ammar’s death is a stark reminder that horrible abuses by some armed groups, which may amount to crimes against humanity, do not allow the government to attack ordinary people.

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