As Iraqi forces prepare to try to recapture the city of Falluja, tens of thousands of civilians find themselves trapped between Islamic State militants ready to use them as human shields and a government suspicious of their loyalties.

With the jihadists coercing them to stay, and a government blockade and shelling closing exit routes and cutting off supplies, there is “a vice, a noose around the neck of the population”, Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, told Reuters.

Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim-led government on Monday announced the start of operations to “liberate Anbar”, the province west of Baghdad whose Sunni Muslim cities and towns along the Euphrates have since last year become strongholds of Islamic State. […]