Iraq’s military has warned civilians against returning to Ramadi after dozens were killed by mines apparently planted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group in the city’s streets and buildings. Iraqi forces reclaimed Ramadi from ISIL fighters in December and tens of thousands of residents have moved back to Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, in the past two months.
Most of them have returned from camps east of the city where they took refuge prior to the army’s advance late last year. A spokesperson for the Anbar governor’s office, which is overseeing much of the effort to restore Ramadi, confirmed the military had issued the directive because it “felt the need to stop the return to ensure that the areas are safe”.
He said it was not clear when people would be allowed to return to Ramadi and declined to comment on what would happen to the residents who had already moved back. However, Ramadi’s mayor said he expected the freeze to last for a day or two while authorities investigated whether the city was properly cleared of explosives. Official statistics indicate that 49 people have been killed and 79 others wounded in Ramadi since the start of February, but the UN has said those figures are “almost certainly an underestimation”.
Demining is seen as a critical first step in returning civilians to Ramadi, which a UN team said last month suffers from destruction worse than anywhere else in Iraq after months of fighting that saw ISIL bomb attacks and devastating US-led coalition air strikes. More than 3.4 million Iraqis across the country have been displaced by violence, according to UN statistics, most of them from the minority Sunni Arab community.