Fallujah is literally hell on earth these days. Close to 50,000 people are trapped in the beleaguered Iraqi city as Iraqi forces try to retake the city from ISIL militants. ISIL has held sway over the city since January 2014, when it captured Fallujah from fledgling Iraqi forces.
The fall of Fallujah was a wake up call to the Iraqi government because Fallujah is just an hour away from Iraqi capital city of Baghdad. The city's fall in 2014 was blamed on the confusion and lack of coordination between Iraqi forces. It is only now that the Iraqi forces have made any headway in recapturing the city, aided by US bombers and hundreds of Shia militia.
ISIL isn't allowing the city's residents to leave
The continuous fighting has put the lives of thousands of the city's residents at peril. The ISIL is using hundreds of them as human shields in the center of the city while actively preventing others from leaving the city because the Iraqi forces won't risk taking the city by force as long as there are so many civilians there.
At the same time, the city has been cut off by Iraqi forces and no food is entering it. There is a danger that the city may suffer the fate of the doomed Syrian city of Madaya. In Madaya, hundreds of people have starved to death, in an ongoing stalemate between Syrian forces and the US led opposition.
But there is a ray of light for the city's residents yet. Iraqi forces have managed to secure an important road leading out from Fallujah from ISIL, after heavy fighting. Since Saturday, when the road was secured, more than 4000 people have already used it to leave the city.
The Al-Salam intersection is the only safe road out of the city
According to Brigadier Gen. Yahya Rasool, spokesperson for the Joint Operation Command, there are other exits from the city but this is the only one that is completely secured. The other roads are littered with landmines and IED bombs and watched by ISIL militants who try to kill anyone who leaves the city through these roads.
More than 20,000 people have fled the city since May 23rd when military operations to retake the city were first launched. The lack of safe routes is one of the main reasons why more people have not left the city. Some have stayed back because they are afraid of how they will be treated by the Shia militia. Tens of civilians have drowned in the Euphrates river trying to escape the fighting.