According to best estimates, there are somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 residents holed up in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, waiting for their city to be liberated from the dark forces of Daesh. The city is now firmly in the crosshairs of an assortment of Iraqi forces, determined to retake it from the extremists who have wrought so much terror and chaos in their wake.

Those residents who chose to stay behind in the city when it fell to Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), have lived under a yoke of terror, extremism and fear for 18 months. Rather than endure a tenuous and uncertain future living on handouts in the refugee camps of international aid organisations, or joining the ranks of the desperate and desolate who have sought a better life somewhere or anywhere in Turkey or Europe, those who stayed behind were subjected to all of the ritualistic cruelties and horrors that have been so well-catalogued under Daesh’s control.

And now with liberation close at hand, the advice that is being offered to these is to place a white flag over their homes. Is it to help identify the property as anti-Daesh? But such an act will earmark those in such a home or property for certain death — at the hands of Daesh, who will destroy those who dare wish to see an end to their rule. And for the various forces who fight under the umbrella of the Iraqi government, the presence of a white flag cannot be taken for granted to be genuine — a ruse perhaps that will not be trusted by militiamen fuelled by the passion of the battlefield.

These next few days in the battle for Fallujah will be critical and the fear of those who have remained behind is that liberation may equate to an excuse for sectarian retribution. Yes, progress has been made on the ground and in the battles against Daesh and a lot of the necessary dirty work in the alleys and towns has been carried out by Iran-backed militias operating under a loose command structure of the Iraqi military and assisted by air strikes provided by mostly American support.

For all of the slow progress on the ground and in retaking territory from Daesh, however, the government in Baghdad of Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi has done little to assuage critics that it is ineffective, intrinsically corrupt and powerless. As such, it has little control over the Iran-backed militias who now battle for Fallujah. And that’s little comfort to those in the city awaiting their fate.