RAMADI, Iraq — Thousands of civilians are fleeing the Iraqi city of Ramadi after the barbaric Islamic group ISIS, which identifies itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, seized the municipality on Sunday.
According to reports, approximately 25,000 civilians have fled Ramadi as well as a number of government officials, adding to the many that have already left the region to find refuge elsewhere. Some were stated to be stranded on a bridge for some time as they sought to enter Baghdad, but were denied entry.
ISIS fighters went door-to-door looking for military troops and security forces after taking the city, and killed 500 people in the streets, including children.
The group also claims to have freed ISIS members who were held as prisoners in Ramadi, and ransacked military facilities to loot the stash of weapons.
“There have been executions in the streets of Ramadi,” Anbar Province spokesman Muhanad Haimour told NBC News. “The situation in the city is absolutely terrible. The city is in very bad shape.”
He said that ISIS has rigged cars and bulldozers with explosives in an attempt to overtake the city.
“Men, women, kids and fighters’ bodies are scattered on the ground,” Sheikh Rafi al-Fahdawi, a tribal leader from Ramadi who had been fighting ISIS, told the New York Times. “All security forces and tribal leaders have either retreated or been killed in battle. It is a big loss.”
“We’ve always known that the fight would be long and difficult, especially in Anbar province. And so there’s no denying that this is a setback,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters. “But there’s also no denying that the United States will help the Iraqis take back Ramadi.”
U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey echoed that America will provide assistance to the Iraqis to take Ramadi back from ISIS.
“Much effort will now be required to reclaim the city,” he stated. “We will continue to support Iraq’s security forces with U.S. air strikes, training, and equipment. Reducing sectarian tensions and preparing for reconstruction will continue to challenge the government of Iraq.”
Some state that efforts by Shia Muslim military forces may be the key to reclaiming the city, but others have expressed concern, opining that the plight of the people will be the same whether Ramadi is controlled by ISIS or the Shia militia.
“If the Shia militias enter Ramadi, they will do the same things being done by Daesh [IS],” grocery store owner Abu Ammar told the Associated Press. “In both cases, we will be either killed or displaced. For us, the militias and IS militants are two faces of the same coin.”
Local forces has been successful in pushing back ISIS last month in Tikrit and were able to retake an oil refinery seized by the group in Beiji. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi had also stated a month ago that the government believed that it was going to reclaim the Anbar Province from the clutches of ISIS.