Humanitarian disaster is looming in the western Iraq city of Fallujah, an Islamic State stronghold under siege by security forces, where tens of thousands of people face food shortages, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said Tuesday.

There is no flour, rice, sugar or oil available in Fallujah and the prices of the little food that is left have risen sharply, the agency quoted Fallujah residents as saying.

Fuel and cooking oil are no longer available and the price of a kilo of flour jumped to 24,000 IQD ($20) in January, up more than 800 percent from December, the WFP said.

The Iraqi army, police and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias – backed by airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition – imposed a near total siege late last year on Fallujah, located 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad in the Euphrates River valley.

“The humanitarian situation in Fallujah is dire and residents need immediate assistance,” WFP spokeswoman Marwa Awad told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We are aware that no food is going into the city and that militant groups are controlling the remaining food supplies.”

Iraq not seen as priority

It has been too dangerous for the WFP to reach the area since September, when it delivered a one-month supply of food to 400 families in Garma, 10 km (6 miles) from Fallujah, she said.

We are deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation inside Fallujah, where many people require immediate food assistance,” Awad said. “We are ready to help, but we are on standby until … the authorities give the green light to go in.”

Of the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 residents of Fallujah, a “significant number” are surviving on potatoes and other local food, after moving toward rural areas on the outskirts of the city, Awad said by phone from Iraq.

“We call on all parties to allow access to prevent a humanitarian disaster,” she said. “Sadly, everyone is focused on Syria and Yemen, and the international community is no longer prioritizing Iraq. That’s the problem.”

In January, 32 people were reported to have died from starvation in Syria in areas that had been under siege for months. WASHINGTON/SULAYMANIYAH, IRAQ-

Facing a massive financial shortfall, Kurdish authorities in Iraq sought emergency economic assistance last year from Iran, according to Kurdish and Iranian sources.

The discussion stalled, the sources said, because Tehran demanded a share of Kurdish oil revenues.

Nazim Dabakh, the Kurdish region’s representative to Iran, told VOA that the subject was discussed during the visit of Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani to Tehran during the Munich Security Conference in October.

Dabakh said that “through our channels and in our private meeting with Iranian officials, we have conveyed the message of Kurdish people about the financial crisis and our need for assistance. The Islamic Republic of Iran showed its willingness to provide the Kurdistan regional government a large amount of money in loans via its companies operating in Kurdistan in exchange for our government paying back in oil.”

Both sides agreed to discuss the details of the proposal in another meeting in the Kurdish region’s capital of Irbil, he told VOA. Several high-ranking Kurdish officials contacted by VOA, including the deputy prime minister, declined to comment.

Oil price decline

A pro-Western region and one of the most effective allies in fighting the Islamic State group, the Kurdish region is wrestling with a financial crisis triggered by the fall in oil prices, a costly war against IS and the influx of about 1.8 million refugees from Iraq and Syria.

Kurdish officials estimate their authority has piled up $15 billion to $18 billion in debt.

“The Iranians agreed to give $50 million in the form of microloans, as a first phase, in exchange for some cooperation on oil derivatives and refineries of the region,” a former Iranian Revolutionary Guards member told VOA on condition of anonymity.

Desperate for cash, a high-level delegation of Kurds, representing the Kurdish government, made a similar appeal to the United States for urgent help earlier this year during an official visit to Washington.

The Kurds warned that the crisis might affect the morale of their fighters who are pushing toward the IS stronghold in Iraq, Mosul, despite not receiving payment for months.

The U.S. government has taken their pleas seriously and proposed providing $50 million per month to pay their forces, according to a report last week in the journal Foreign Policy.

Iranian help in 2014

The Kurdish authority has friendly relations with Iran. When IS attacked Irbil in 2014, Iran delivered arms and ammunition to the Kurdish forces. The U.S. military later provided aerial cover for that Kurdish operation.

“We asked for weapons, and Iran was the first country to provide us with weapons and ammunition,” Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani said at a joint news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in August 2014.

“The emergence of IS has clearly allowed Iran to expand its influence in Kurdistan,” Perry Cammack, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Program, told VOA. “Iran seeks to deepen ties with the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, who play a major role in fighting against IS.”

Last month, Iranian officials were on hand to open the Khomeini Cultural and Sports Center in the Kurdish city of Kirkuk, to coincide with the 37th anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Source: Voice of America

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LONDON- Humanitarian disaster is looming in the western Iraq city of Fallujah, an Islamic State stronghold under siege by security forces, where tens of thousands of people face food shortages, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said Tuesday.There is no flour, rice, sugar or oil available in Fallujah...