Thousands of people fled the Anbar province of Iraq due to heavy fighting, says the UN.
The world body estimates that some 5,000 families have run to neighboring provinces.
“There is a critical humanitarian situation in Anbar province which is likely to worsen as operations continue,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Nickolay Mladenov.
Human Rights Watch also decried the violence, calling attention to the attacks on civilians. It accused both sides fighting of using ‘unlawful methods of fighting,’ causing damage to property and civilian deaths. The group urged the government of Iraq to protect its people while fighting back the problem of al-Qaeda.
“The government urgently needs to deal with the threat from al-Qaeda, but killing its own citizens unlawfully is not the way,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Civilians have been caught in the middle in Anbar, and the government appears to be doing nothing to protect them.”
The ten days of fighting in Anbar have resulted in more than 250 casualties. The Iraqi government has little control over the region, relying on tribal allies to fight back the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State (ISIL) of Iraq and the Levant and other anti-government tribes.
ISIL has made some of the largest gains in years by taking over Fallujah and Ramadi thanks to its ties in Syria.
“ISIL has been able to leverage its networks and capabilities in Iraq to become a strong presence in Syria, and has used its presence in Syria to leverage its position in Iraq,” said Daniel Byman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, to AFP.
The UN is responding by proving humanitarian relief, alongside the Iraqi Red Crescent. They say the fighting is hampering relief work.
“The UN agencies are working to identify the needs of the population and prepare medical supplies, food and non-food items for distribution if safe passage can be ensured. This remains a primary challenge,” said Mladenov.