The world was transfixed by the plight of Iraq’s Yazidi people earlier this month, when fighters from the militant Islamic group ISIS trapped them on a mountainside and U.S. airstrikes were needed to clear a path to safety. But another minority group in Iraq is facing a similar fate right now, with far less international attention.
The more than 17,000 people living in the town of Amerli in Western Iraq are under siege and dozens have already died of hunger, dehydration and disease. They are Shia Muslims and members of the Turkmen ethnic group, which makes up a small minority of the country’s population. Their Shia faith makes them apostates in the eyes of ISIS fighters, who have reportedly put hundreds or more non-Sunni Muslims to death because of their religion.
ISIS has already taken control of dozens of smaller villages in the area surrounding Amerli. Witness reports say that in some cases, ISIS fighters massacred non-Sunni residents and left their bodies on display as a message to others.
The rescue of the Yazidi gave the people of Amerli hope that they would get similar assistance. Now, though, one of them told the BBC last week, “We have been completely forgotten.”
Less than 100 miles north of Baghdad, Amerli is a farming town, but crops have been left in the field as farmers take up what arms they can find to mount a defense against ISIS, which has the town completely surrounded and cut off from the outside world.
“The situation of the people in Amerli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens,” said Nickolay Mladenov, the special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq. “The town is besieged by ISIL and reports confirm that people are surviving in desperate conditions.”
Calling the situation an imminent “human rights tragedy,” he continued, “I urge the Iraqi government to do all it can to relieve the siege and to ensure that the residents receive lifesaving humanitarian assistance or are evacuated in a dignified manner.”
He also said, “Iraq’s allies and the international community should work with the authorities to prevent a human rights tragedy.”
Last week, Dr. Ali Albayati, who the BBC described as a local resident working to get supplies and other aid to Amerli, told the British news organization, “It is a humanitarian disaster. Twenty thousand people in Amerli are fighting off death. There are children who are only eating once every three days. I can't describe the situation. I just don’t know what to say."
According to Albayati, the Iraqi army is providing some assistance. It’s slowly evacuating the town via helicopters that arrive irregularly, but no more than once daily. He said that there has only been one delivery of food in the past ten days, and that it was not nearly enough to supply the entire town.
Phillip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, on Friday offered “in-principle support for an international mission to help” the people of Amerli and said the U.K. government would “closely” watch events here, according to The Independent.
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