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UN: Thousands flee latest 'IS' advance in Iraq

A jihadist advance in Iraq's Anbar province has forced over 90,000 people to leave their homes, according to the United Nations. The "Islamic State" militants have been gaining ground in the area over the past week.

The citizens of Ramadi are fleeing in large numbers as at least three villages close to Anbar's provincial capital have been overtaken by the Sunni militant group "Islamic State," the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Iraq said Sunday.

"Our top priority is delivering life-saving assistance to people who are fleeing - food, water and shelter are highest on the list of priorities," Lise Grande, the OCHA coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement.

Grande said she was concerned about the safety of the displaced people as many of them were heading to Fallujah, which is under IS' control.

"Seeing people carrying what little they can and rushing for safety is heart-breaking," she added.

Counteroffensive

Officials say the Iraqi army is preparing to launch a counteroffensive against IS to push them out of Ramadi, after receiving reinforcements from the central government in Baghdad.

Last week, Iraqi forces backed by US-led airstrikes and local Shiite militias

regained control of the northern city of Tikrit

, which had been captured by IS jihadists nine months ago. They haven't had a similar success in Ramadi, which has remained a difficult territory for government troops for many months.

Ramadi, which is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of the capital, Baghdad, is one of the last major cities in the western province of Anbar that is partly under the control of the Iraqi central government. In November,

Baghdad's forces recaptured the strategically important northern towns of Bayji and Jurf Al Sakhar

, but a swath of other territory in the conflict-ridden province remains outside of their control.

Since January last year, the civil war and militant attacks have displaced at least 2.7 million people in Iraq. In Anbar, a total number of 400,000 people have left their homes since the start of the conflict.

shs/sms (AP, Reuters)

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