Fleeing for their lives: 28,000 Sunnis escape Tikrit amid fierce fighting between ISIS and the Shia militias – who they fear even more

Shia fighters launch a rocket towards Islamic State militants during heavy fighting east of the militant-held city of Tikrit

Fierce fighting between Islamic State militants and soldiers from the Iraqi Army has forced 28,000 residents of the Iraqi city of Tikrit to flee their homes in recent days.

Citizens of the strategically important city, which lies midway between regime-capital Baghdad and the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, are making desperate efforts to escape the fighting, the UN says.

More than 30,000 Iraqi Army soldiers are currently fighting ISIS militants in the suburbs of Tikrit, or are otherwise making their way towards the city alongside tens of thousands of Iran-backed Shia volunteer militias, many of whom are accused of carrying out ISIS-style atrocities themselves.

Although the troops are aiming to liberate the city from ISIS control, many of the predominantly Sunni population have spent the past few days cutting up white clothes and fabric to make flags of surrender, fearing the Shia armies even more than their terrorist occupiers…