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Fallujah Residents Say Violence Has Heightened Since Iraq War

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The city of Fallujah was the setting for some of the fiercest battles of the U.S. War in Iraq. Today we're going to hear from a man who says conditions today are even worse than they were at the height of that war. The city is located just outside the capital, Baghdad. It was the first to fall to ISIS two years ago. And it remains under the group's control. Now it's besieged by Iraqi forces, and residents are starving. According to Human Rights Watch, ISIS does not allow anyone to use their phones in Fallujah to communicate with the outside world. One exception is a local cleric. His name is Shaikh Mustafa Al-Tarabuli. He has been granted permission by ISIS leaders to negotiate with the Iraqi government to get food and medicine into the city. And he agreed to speak with us. Our producer, Noor Wazwaz, interpreted.

NOOR WAZWAZ, BYLINE: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Al-Tarabuli says life has become almost unendurable. Iraqi military gains have intensified the siege over the last four months.

MUSTAFA AL-TARABULI: (Through interpreter) Today someone died because all the medicine has expired. Basic foods like flour, rice, and cooking oil, have all run out. We're only eating things that we can grow, like vegetables. Electricity is gone, and gas has run out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fallujah has been at the center of conflict since the U.S. Invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was a scene of several huge battles between insurgents and the U.S. Military. I asked him how that period compares to what they're dealing with now.

AL-TARABULI: (Through interpreter) There's no comparison. Now it is worse. When America was here, there was electricity and water. Now there is not. The children can't sleep because of hunger and the heat. They stay up until the morning. We don't sleep.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: With ISIS in the city and the Iraqi army massed around it, Al-Tarabuli says the people worry the situation will get even more violent. He says there's only been limited resistance to ISIS inside Fallujah, and that has led to a perception by the Shiite-led government that all the Sunni residents are ISIS supporters.

WAZWAZ: (Through interpreter) The government considers whoever stays in Fallujah part of ISIS. And because of that, they are bombing without purpose. They're bombing houses, markets, hospitals.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: While many residents have fled, many thousands remain trapped inside the city. ISIS refuses to allow anyone to leave. And residents worry if they escape, they will be arrested by government troops as ISIS collaborators. As the imam of one of Fallujah's largest mosques, Al-Tarabuli was only recently permitted by ISIS to negotiate on behalf of the city to get the desperately needed supplies. But he says so far he hasn't made any progress.

AL-TARABULI: (Through interpreter) Those who weren't killed by bombs, they're going to die from starvation. Those who don't die from starvation will die from lack of medicine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says people come to his mosque asking for food and for money, but he can't help them. So when he delivers the Friday sermon, he urges the rich to give to the poor. He says he doesn't think people can hold out for more than a few more months. We were speaking with Shaikh Mustafa Al-Tarabuli. He was in Fallujah, Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.