The war for the future of Iraq took a tragic turn Thursday as the Islamic State (ISIS) expanded its operations into autonomous Kurdistan, sending thousands of Christians fleeing from the town of Qaraqosh.
The group, which is waging a seemingly unstoppable campaign of terror across Iraq, chased these refugees, known as the Yazidis, to Mount Sinjar. According to reports, up to 40,000 Yazidis are lacking food and water. These reports indicate that members of the group are starving to death.
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“The children and the elderly cannot stand the lack of food and water and the aid doesn’t reach all the families who have taken refugee on the mountain,” an eyewitness told the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw.
The Iraqi government has tried to airdrop supplies to the Yazidis, without success. The incident has drawn new attention to just how quickly ISIS has advanced, how much control of the country it has, and just how close Iraq is to breaking apart.
The situation is so dire that the White House is reportedly considering air strikes to rescue to Yazidis or dropping supplies on the mountain. The New York Times reports President Obama is so concerned about the situation at Mount Sinjar that he is considering “imminent” action.
“There could be a humanitarian catastrophe there,” an administration official told The Times.
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“These actions have exacerbated an already dire crisis, and the situation is nearing a humanitarian catastrophe,” added White House spokesman Josh Earnest. He said that ISIS “demonstrates a callous disregard for human rights and is deeply disturbing.”
It’s not clear what makes this callous disregard for human rights at Mount Sinjar any worse than the other human rights violations across Iraq that ISIS is responsible for. Across western Iraq, the group has begun to institute Sharia law. It has indiscriminately slaughtered innocent Iraqis. It has reportedly sold women into sex slavery. ISIS, comprised of Sunni Muslims, has targeted any one who is not one of their own.
“How in the 21st century could people be forced from their houses just because they are Christian, or Shiite, or Sunni or Yazidi?” Louis Raphael Sako, leader of the largest Catholic Church in Iraq, recently told Reuters. “Christian families have been expelled from their houses and their valuables were stolen…. This has never happened in Christian or Islamic history. Even Genghis Khan … didn’t do this.”
Elsewhere in Iraq, ISIS captured the largest dam in Iraq. During the second Iraq war, the United States has warned that breaking the dam could flood Mosul and Baghdad. In the short term, controlling the dam gives ISIS control over much of Iraq’s water supply and electricity.
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The White House has limited options to stop ISIS from taking almost all of Iraq. It could arm the Kurdish Peshmerga – Kurdish fighters - and hope that they are more effective than the Iraqi military. They could conduct air strikes against ISIS, as is being considered. Obama has already taken the option of American boots on the ground off the table, so this fight will largely be the Iraqis to win.
In the meantime, ISIS continues to ravage Iraq, with its sights squarely set on controlling land outside of eastern Syria and western Iraq. It’s now the Yazidi who bear the brunt of their brutality.
“Our women are being taken as slaves and sold in the slave market,” Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of Iraq’s parliament, said in a tearful floor speech. “The Shiites, the Sunnis, the Christians, the Turkmen, and the Shabak were slaughtered, now the Yazidi."
“We are being slaughtered,” Dakhil said. “We are being exterminated.”
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