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Iraqi forces close in on Fallujah -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Iraqi military is closing in on the city of Falluja, which has been held for two years by the Islamic State group.

Iraqi forces have the backing of airstrikes by the US led coalition.

But aid agencies warn the jihadists are refusing to let civilians flee.

And they're receiving reports that a government siege has caused severe shortages of food and fuel.

Middle East Correspondent, Matt Brown, reports from Beirut.

MATT BROWN: As the Iraqi army moves in on the Islamic State group's bastion, Fallujah, the backing of airstrikes by the US-led coalition has been vital.

Government forces have also been opening up with all they have: it's a hellish combination.

The government says it's opened safe corridors for civilians to flee the city.

But it isn't working, just eighty families made it out in the first wave.

BECKY BAKR ABDULLA: What we're hearing is a very, very dire situation for the civilian population inside Falluja.

MATT BROWN: The Norwegian Refugee Council's Becky Bakr Abdulla, has just returned from a camp for displaced people near Falluja. Residents told her IS wont let civilians leave the city.

BECKY BAKR ABDULLA: One of the mothers I talked to today that managed to escape the city yesterday was telling me that IS found out, they came to our house, they started hitting their husbands with wooden sticks and stopping the women, surrounding them by motorcycles and directly forcing them to stay and not to leave, and threatening everyone that was planning on leaving by saying that 'we will kill you and we will burn down your houses if you try to leave'.

MATT BROWN: Those who did make it out did so with unimaginable courage and luck.

BECKY BAKR ABDULLA: They've had to walk barefoot, they've had to run for several hours carrying children with them.

They've had to walk through drainage pipes to not be seen, walking during night, crawling during night time, raising white flags made of cloth they'd found.

They are not telling me about any designated safe routes out.

MATT BROWN: The civilians of Fallujah were already suffering - isolated both by IS and a government-imposed siege on the city.

BECKY BAKR ABDULLA: People are managing on a few dates a day, some water.

The woman I spoke to had managed to get some yoghurt from a neighbour. There is no electricity, there is no fuel and of course bombs are raging right outside these people's doorsteps.

One of the women I spoke to today mentioned that a family that was starving so much that at the end of it, the mother decided to drown herself and her children because they couldn't deal with it anymore.

MATT BROWN: The NRC estimates fifty thousand people are still living in Fallujah.

The Prime Minister and the Defence Minister say their forces are making great progress.

There's been heated debate about using Shiite militias to take yet another Sunni-majority town, especially one that's been a core of insurgency since the US-led invasion thirteen years ago.

But they are the backbone of the so called Popular Mobilisation Forces that first stemmed the tide of Islamic State's advance. In many ways they are now a law unto themselves.

Asaib al Haq, a militia infamous for abusing Sunni civilians, is defiantly firing away on the front line.

Its leader, Qais al Khazali says "They're saying 'We don't need Popular Mobilisation Forces to purge our cities', our answer is we need to purge the cities of Iraq because these areas have became a stronghold to target Iraqis and kill civilians."

MATT BROWN: But the civilians of Fallujah are now braced for a grinding battle.

This is Matt Brown in Beirut for AM.