News / Middle East

Iraqi Minorities Powerless in Face of Islamic State Advances

Iraqi Christians, who fled violence brought by Islamic State militants in the village of Qaraqosh, seek refuge inside a church building in Irbil, north of Baghdad, Aug. 11, 2014.
Iraqi Christians, who fled violence brought by Islamic State militants in the village of Qaraqosh, seek refuge inside a church building in Irbil, north of Baghdad, Aug. 11, 2014.
Sharon Behn

Islamist extremists raging their way across Syria and northwestern Iraq have forced Iraqi Christians and Yazidi minorities to flee areas where they have lived for thousands of years.

Thousands of Iraqi Christians, who in early August fled their villages in northwestern Iraq when militants from the Islamic State swept in, have flooded into Kurdistan. And many of them are not looking back.

Khalis Barbar, an Iraqi Christian who represents the Christian community from the ancient town of Ninevah, told VOA by phone from Irbil that despite help from officials and non-governmental organizations, their conditions are dire.

"Many of the people [are in] hotels and motels and others in schools, every family gets to live in a classroom, in one classroom, and many, many of them are living in gardens and in church," he said.

Barbar has stayed in touch with Christian families left behind in the town of Qaraqosh. He says the militants have looted most of the shops and homes there. He says one of the leaders of the militants, known locally as "Daash, "took over his house."

"We have there about 20 or 30 families, they did not, they cannot leave because they were asleep or they haven't money or cars or something like that, so they are still [there] now," Barbar said. "And the 'Daash' now they are starting to steal [break into] the shops and open it and start to open [break into] many of the houses there also and steal what’s in the houses and shops, like electrical instruments, like computers, like telephones, like food. So, they emptied all the shops there in Qaraqosh."

He says many local Sunni Arabs have been forced into joining the militants, but others are supporting the Islamic State group against what they perceive as a hostile Shi'ite government led by incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum on Monday nominated Haider al-Abadi to take over the prime minister post in hopes of creating a new unity government to bring Iraq's Sunnis back into the mainstream. So far Maliki, seen as a deeply polarizing figure in Iraqi politics, has refused to step down.

Leaders from around the world have denounced Islamic State extremist attacks against Iraq's Christian and Yazidi minorities.

Fearing a potential genocide, the United States on August 8 started bombing militant positions in northwestern Iraq, while joining an international air drop of emergency food and water to Yazidis stranded on Sinjar in Iraq's remote northwest.

Metin Corabatir, a former UNHCR official who now runs an NGO in Turkey, says some Yazidis have finally managed to escape.

"We are witnessing a big tragedy actually. Thanks to efforts from the U.S. government and Kurdish groups and some neighboring countries, now some people have been evacuated from Sinjar Mountain," he said. "In Turkey, we have about 2,000 people in Silopi area at the border and they are [being] helped by the local municipality and NGOs there. But we hear, according to reports, that there are thousands of Yazidis mainly waiting at the Iraqi side of the border, waiting to cross the border."

While encouraged by the political shift in Baghdad and the U.S. airstrikes, Barbar says although not all Iraqi Sunnis support the militants, there are some who do, and that means many Christians are no longer comfortable in Iraq.

"They have sleeper cells in other towns, maybe in Baghdad, I think they have these sleeper cells there. And if, for example, they [Islamic State militants] go to Baghdad, enter Baghdad,  they [Sunnis] will be with them [supporting them]," he said.

Washington on Tuesday said it was sending an additional 130 military advisers to Irbil to assess the scope of the crisis and get the refugees to safety. The United States has insisted it will not send any combat troops to the area.

The Islamic State militants have grabbed large swaths of eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq and declared it a "caliphate."

Barbar says their invasion has forced some 140,000 Christians to abandon areas where they have lived for 7,000 years. Now, he says, many no longer want to go back.

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Comment Sorting
by: Shem Beverton Mukalo from: Nairobi
August 14, 2014 6:50 PM
There can be only be one solution:boots on the ground.

August 14, 2014 3:16 AM
This is a shameful act of Saudi Arabia, on one hand they are supporting Terrorist Group in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, and then they give donation to UN to eliminate Terrorism. This is Big joke. How many innocent peoples killed or BEHEADED by these Terrorist Group in the name of Saudi Wahabi Islam, they should be ready for their answer in God Court. In Quran there is no discount if some body born in Medina or Mecca and their hands full of helpless human blood.

by: help all people , from: the same, no disriminati
August 13, 2014 9:40 PM
On a warm June morning, a dozen masked, armed men burst into the Church of the Transfiguration in the Ukrainian town of Slaviansk, demanding to know who among its 300 congregants owned the four expensive vehicles parked in front.

Four men stepped forward – the church priest’s two grown sons, Ruvim and Albert Pavenko, and two deacons, Victor Brodarsky and Vladimir Velichko – and were quickly hustled out of the large, Soviet-era edifice, thrust into their cars, and forced to drive away with the rebels. After 35 agonizing days of searching came evidence that all four were dead.

The murder of these men, and the discovery of their bodies at a mass grave near an old war memorial, may prove one of the most cold-blooded acts in a conflict that has so far taken hundreds of lives – showing in one terrifying move how the rebels cemented a mechanism of intimidation in come no one sent the airstrikes to help Ukraine, or the poor people in Syria that butcher Assad and his armies have been slaughtering for 3 years

by: Anonymous
August 13, 2014 9:38 PM
humanitarian action needs to happen and the normal world and people of Islam are not with those who are killing innocent people .....all the people that are suffering and are persecuted, the world and UN should help them and help and stop the killings of Yazidis and Iraqi minorities in Iraq, Palestinians in Gaza and Palestine , Burmese minorities, people in Ukraine, people of Africa, People in Caucasus , minorities in China, and all other .....lets not make mistakes of Rwanda, Bosnia,Croatia, WW2,WW1......let be humans again

by: Roy Chang from: Sydney
August 13, 2014 7:13 PM
'some 140,000 Christians to abandon areas where they have lived for 7,000 years.'

Christianity has been around for only 2000 years. Where did that extra 4000 years creep in?
Even the Yazidis were around for at most 3000 years, at least around the time when Judaism evolved.
In Response

by: David from: Florida,USA
August 14, 2014 1:24 AM
Perhaps their ancestors were pre-Christian. The fact that they are Christians now, does not mean that all of their ancestors were Christian. I am quite certain of it. If the families have lived there for 7000 years, some ancestor must have converted.

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