Islamic State fighters are essentially trapped in the Iraqi city of Ramadi after destroying the last lock on the Euphrates River Dec. 10 that served as a bridge out of the city.
All other bridges around the city were destroyed previously by the militants as Iraq’s military pushed in, the New York Post reports.
“Daesh forces trying to stop our progress bombed the last bridge which connects the city center,” Iraqi Major General Ismail al-Mahlawi, the head of military operations in the western Anbar province, said, using the Arabic language acronym for the Islamic State.
There are now some 300 Islamic State fighters trapped in the center of the city, al-Mahlawi said.
The destruction of the bridge may have been a tactical mistake for the terrorist group, according to Col. Steven Warren, the spokesman for the US-led coalition in Baghdad.
“What they’ve also done now is they’ve really cut themselves off,” Warren said. “So the fighters left on the north side of the river can’t retreat and the fighters on the south side of the river can’t send reinforcements.”
Just one day before the bridge was destroyed by the terrorist group, Reuters published interviews with civilians in the city who find themselves effectively being held hostage, possibly to be used as human shields in an attack.
“Daesh fighters are becoming more hostile and suspicious. They prevent us from leaving houses. Everyone who goes out against orders is caught and investigated," Abu Ahmed said. "We feel we’re living inside a sealed casket."
The harsh rule by Islamic State fighters may be in response to Sunni Muslim residents switching sides to help U.S. forces defeat hostiles during the American occupation of Iraq nearly a decade ago.
“The insurgents have sectioned Ramadi into a group of smaller segments and do not permit the passage of civilians from one area to the other because they suspect anyone at the moment of being an informant for the security forces," Sheikh Khatab al-Amir, who is in contact with members of his tribe inside Ramadi, said.
Motorcycle patrols have reportedly been increased to catch people using cell phones, a prohibited action in Islamic State territory. High buildings, which are empty, are also under surveillance.
“They (militants) are strangling us more and more. They treat us like prisoners,” Ahmed said. He had to sit on the roof of his house with a cardboard box over his head so he would not be seen by Islamic State patrols to make the call to Reuters.
“I have to go now. I’m hearing Daesh motorcycles. I could lose my head if…” Ahmed said, ending the call mid-sentence.
Food has also become scarce, forcing residents to eat some that is rotten. One resident fears he may have to kill the cat his family has raised for years if food runs out.
According to local officials, 1,200-1,700 families are trapped inside Ramadi.
As Iraqi forces push towards the city, they claim the remaining residents are supporters of the Islamic State, not innocent civilians.
“We are pushing the terrorists more to the corners and our troops are further closing on them," said Sabah al-Numani, spokesman for the Iraqi counter-terrorism forces. "All families left inside Ramadi are those of the terrorists or those who support them."
Several residents told Reuters they long to be rid of the Islamic State, but fear what may come afterwards if they are believed to have been supporting the militants.
“I wish that could happen soon to get rid of the Daesh nightmare, but what could happen afterwards could be worse," Omar, a father of two daughters, said. "We will be the scapegoat."