Iraqi traders sell their goods at an open air market in the center of the city of Fallujah, west of the capital Baghdad on January 8, 2014, following days of fighting between Iraqi security forces and militants. AFP PHOTO/SADAM EL-MAHMEDY
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More than 13,000 families have fled Fallujah, NGOs said Wednesday, warning of a "critical" humanitarian situation as masked gunmen locked in a days-long standoff with Iraqi troops hold the city.Fallujah and parts of nearby Ramadi, both in the western province of Anbar which borders Syria, have been outside government hands for days -- the first time militants have exercised such open control in major cities since the height of the insurgency that followed the 2003 US-led invasion.The Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has been active in Fallujah, but so have anti-government tribes.The security forces have meanwhile recruited their own tribal allies in the fighting that has raged in Anbar province for more than a week and killed more than 250 people.Attacking the Sunni-majority city would be a significant test for Iraqi security forces, who have yet to undertake such a major operation without the backing of US troops, who withdrew in December 2011 .
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