Al Qaim was the last Daesh bastion on the western border with Syria, and last week Iraqi forces recaptured the town and final border post between Iraq and Syria that was still held by the terrorists. On the other side of the border, Syrian forces confirmed it had retaken Deir al-Zour, a Daesh stronghold since 2014, though they are still fighting pockets of resistance fighters within the city.
A humanitarian crisis is now unfolding with many people fleeing into the desert with just the clothes on their backs. News sources suggest that some 63,000 have reached camps in Iraq, while 350,000 people have fled their homes on the other side of the Euphrates River as the fighting has ravaged their communities. Meanwhile they are waiting for permission to travel to camps, waiting for food, waiting for medicine.
Daesh has now been driven out of about 95% of the land the group once held in Iraq and more than 4.4 million Iraqis have been freed from its rule, according to the US-led coalition.
The Al Murabit team was on the ground in the last couple of days supporting NGOs entering the town to assess structures in which they could establish and set up trauma medical facilities for the World Heath Organisation. The whole area has been war ravaged with hardly a building left that is not either destroyed, or damaged in some way. Groups and families of people wander around displaced from homes that have been destroyed.
The atmosphere is tense with feelings showing a mixture of relief and worry. The local people here have been living with Daesh for quite some time, so there will continue to be underlying issues of trust. There are stories in abundance of the horror, torture, recruitment of young boys, forced suicide bombers, enslavement, mass rapes and more. Knowing the very nature of ISIS and the extent of the cruelty they will go to, as reported across many news streams, the team and the NGOs have no reason to doubt the stories being revealed.
Below is a picture of our vehicles entering Al Qaim, in this and other areas there are still pockets of die hard Daesh soldiers popping up within the city willing to die for their cause, rather than flee across the river and border to Syria.
Evidence of war-ravaged homes, smouldering ruins, crumbling homes, makeshift roadside shacks are all visible and are the daily reality of those who remain.