– The United Nations sounded an alarm Friday over the impact of deepening conflict involving militants linked to Al-Qaida in Iraq’s Anbar province, saying more people had been forced to flee their homes than at any time since sectarian violence between 2006 and 2008 during the U.S.-led occupation.

Fighting around the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi displaced more than 65,000 people in the past week and brought to 140,000 the number of those who have fled the fighting that erupted in the area in late December, Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, told journalists in Geneva.

“This is one of the most difficult situations we have seen in Iraq in a number of years,” Edwards said. As violence escalated, families who had abandoned their homes several weeks ago had been forced to move again, he said, and “many of the displaced are in desperate need of food, medical care and other aid.”

Iraq already has more than a million people uprooted by conflict, many of them now living in and around Baghdad and the provinces of Diyala and Ninewa.

Thousands of those fleeing the latest fighting have made their way north to Kurdish areas where the United Nations has refurbished a reception area and opened space in a camp built to receive Syrian refugees, Edwards said. But many are still trapped in areas of conflict around Fallujah, staying with relatives or in mosques, schools and hospitals where essential supplies of food and fuel are running low. The destruction of many bridges in the fighting has hampered access to the conflict area for relief agencies. The United Nations is calling on the government to open up humanitarian corridors so that relief supplies can reach the stranded families, Edwards added.

New York Times