News / Middle East

    White House 'Gravely Concerned' for Trapped Iraqis

    Islamic State militants stand guard after controlling a headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Christian town of Bartella on the outskirts the province of Nineveh, August 7, 2014.
    Islamic State militants stand guard after controlling a headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Christian town of Bartella on the outskirts the province of Nineveh, August 7, 2014.
    VOA News

    The United States is weighing a range of options in Iraq, where Islamic extremists have seized Iraq's largest dam and significant parts of the northern region, resulting in a wave of refugees in the area.

    State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf says Washington is extremely concerned about the situation, describing it as a "huge humanitarian crisis."

    Harf said the U.S. is looking at a range of options. She said the U..S is "actively considering" what else it can do, given the extremely grave situation on the ground.

    But senior US officials have said there will be no American military combat troops on the ground.

    "The situation is nearing a humanitarian catastrophe," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. "We are gravely concerned for their health and safety."

    The White House called the dire humanitarian situation in Iraq a consequence of a broader failure of Iraqi political leaders.

    But Earnest stressed that "there are no American military solutions to the problems in Iraq."

    He said solutions to the humanitarian crisis near Sinjar "will only come through political reforms."

    Earlier Thursday, Earnest declined to confirm a report published by The New York Times Thursday that said U.S. President Barack Obama is considering airstrikes and emergency relief airdrops to help 40,000 religious minorities in Iraq who are trapped on a mountaintop after death threats by Islamic militants.

    But he said the Islamic fighters in northern Iraq have displayed a "callous disregard" for human rights.

    While the White House did not publicly outline the range of options under consideration, officials said the U.S. strongly condemns the extremists' assault on minorities, including the Yazidis, who follow an ancient religion with ties to Zoroastrianism, and Christians.

    President Barack huddled with his national security team Thursday to discuss the Iraq crisis.

    Militants gain ground

    The Sunni extremists who now call themselves the Islamic State have taken over large swathes of territory in northwestern Iraq and neighboring Syria. The group has imposed a strict form of Islamic law in the area, enforced through beheadings, amputations and crucifixions.

    The group also has issued an ultimatum to tens of thousands of Iraqis from the Yazidi community, which follows an ancient religion with links to Zoroastrianism. Many of the Yazidis fled to the Sinjar Mountains.

    The Islamist fighters have killed many thousands and declared a caliphate in the area they conquered.

    Considered more extremist than al-Qaida, the Islamic State also has also threatened to capture the capital, Baghdad.

    Car bombings in two busy Baghdad markets killed at least 47 people Wednesday. One of the blasts was in the majority Shi'ite neighborhood of Sadr City.

    Amnesty International says access is impossible to areas under IS control, and in surrounding areas where fighting with Kurdish forces is  ongoing.

    The group reports that hundreds of civilians from Sinjar are feared feared dead or abducted after they were attacked by IS militants.

    The Security Council, which says the Islamic State forces sweeping through northern Iraq threaten regional peace, security, and stability, warned this week that the group's persecution of minorities could bring charges of crimes against humanity.

    The Council on Thursday called an emergency meeting to address the sitiation. And Pope Francis is appealing to the international community to help end what he called the "humanitarian tragedy" in Iraq.

    Plight of the minorities

    Tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the latest fighting, in which militants from the group known as the Islamic State (formerly ISIL) captured a dam providing water and electricity for millions of people in and around Mosul, and overran several predominantly Christian towns.

    Sunni extremists made major gains in Iraq's north, taking  control of areas that had been under the protection of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, as well as capturing two oilfields near the Syrian and Turkish borders.

    Witnesses say Islamic militants carried out an overnight offensive near the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, seizing several towns, including Qaraqosh Tal Kayf, which have large Christian populations, and  Sinjar, whose Yazidi minorities were forced to flee with little food or water.

    The plight of the Yazidis is among the most pressing concerns. Thousands fled their homes for the mountains after the Islamic State group issued an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, flee their homes or face death.

    Some of the many thousands trapped on Sinjar mountain have been rescued in the past 24 hours, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said earlier, adding that 200,000 had fled the fighting.

    If Obama were to approve humanitarian assistance to the Yazidis and others, it could be delivered via airdrops by the U.S. military. The military could also advise and assist the Iraqi air force on where and how to deliver humanitarian relief supplies.

    A defense official told VOA: "We have been working urgently and directly with officials in Baghdad and Irbil to coordinate Iraqi airdrops to people in need. The government of Iraq has initiated air drops in the region and we are in constant communication with them on how we can help coordinate additional relief, enhance their efforts, and provide direct assistance wherever possible."

    Yazidi population

    Protesters ask for help for Yazidi people who are stranded by violence in northern Iraq, Aug. 7, 2014, across from the White House in Washington.Protesters ask for help for Yazidi people who are stranded by violence in northern Iraq, Aug. 7, 2014, across from the White House in Washington.
    x
    Protesters ask for help for Yazidi people who are stranded by violence in northern Iraq, Aug. 7, 2014, across from the White House in Washington.
    Protesters ask for help for Yazidi people who are stranded by violence in northern Iraq, Aug. 7, 2014, across from the White House in Washington.

    Just a week ago, Yazidis living in their ancient homeland of Sinjar in northern Iraq felt protected by Kurdish peshmerga forces. Followers of an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism, the Yazidis are themselves Kurds.

    The peshmerga - “those who confront death” - had acquired reputations as fierce warriors who once took on Saddam Hussein's troops. But they gave way before the Sunni militants, who had seized tanks and armored personnel carriers from the Iraqi military when they swept through the north in June.

    Iraq's U.S.-trained and funded army crumbled, leaving the Kurds and Shi'ite militias to fight back against Sunni militants, who were gaining momentum after launching a weekend offensive.

    The Yazidis appear to be paying the heaviest humanitarian price for the ambitions of the Islamic State.

    “Most of the families were stopped by Islamic State militants while they were leaving and the militants killed men. Some were beheaded,” said Abu Ali, 38, who was hiding with tens of thousands of others on Sinjar Mountain.

    “One of the saddest stories was one of our relatives. They beheaded all his 15 family members in front of him and then took him with them.”

    Yazidi women were hauled away for forced marriages, or perhaps slavery, as in other towns. “Some were taken to Syria,” Abu Ali said.

    Many of Yazidi villages were destroyed years earlier when Saddam Hussein's troops tried to crush the Kurds. Some were abducted by his security agents. Now they are on the defensive again.

    Witnesses reached by telephone said about 100 babies died from thirst in mountains infested by snakes and scorpions. But coming down from the mountains and returning to Sinjar is a risky option.

    Minorities forced to conform

    In other places they have captured, Islamic State militants have imposed their radical view of Islam - women must wear a full-face veil, Shi'ite mosques must be dynamited, “infidels” eliminated.

    Minorities have little chance of surviving unless they conform. Nareen Shammo, a Yazidi activist, said families who stayed behind in Sinjar were forced to convert to Islam.

    “Five hundred women were kidnapped. Some of them were sold in an auction at low prices and others were forced to marry militants,” Shammo said.

    Amnesty International said panic was gripping northern Iraq.

    “Many members of minorities are even fleeing areas where there seems to be no imminent danger of an ISIS attack as they are so traumatized by their recent displacement,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International's senior crisis response adviser, who is currently in northern Iraq.

    Aid to Kurdistan

    The Kurdistan Regional Government has appealed for support in its efforts to counter the extremists.

    "It is now time for the international community to step forward, urgently, and provide the KRG with humanitarian assistance and military support, particularly air support," Kurdish Minister Falah Mustafa said on the KRG's website.

    Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for Obama's National Security Council, told Reuters on Wednesday that any provision of U.S. weapons to the Kurds “must be coordinated with central government authorities, in Iraq and elsewhere.”

    But she added that given the threat from the Islamic State “the United States will continue to engage with Baghdad and Irbil to enhance cooperation on the security front and other issues. We are in continuous consultation with the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to determine how they can best coordinate” to confront the militants.

    She said Washington fully supported a decision earlier this week by Baghdad to send air support to Kurdistan.

    Jeff Seldin contributed to this report from the Pentagon. Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.

     

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
     Previous    
    by: ali baba from: new york
    August 07, 2014 3:49 PM
    The decision to help the religious minorities in Iraq is excellent. regarding ISIL ,IRAQ Gove has to deal with them . it is the land of Iraq and they have to fight these fanatic Who has no respect to the law. United state can not get of the middle of it. Jihadist has to get lesson and Iraq people has to teach that lesson and they be example of Barbaric Behavior Will be doomed sooner or later

    by: John Brennan from: CIA
    August 07, 2014 3:33 PM
    The USA destroys everything it touches, and we here at the CIA admit that we fund Al Qaeda from offshore banks, making the "war on terror" a FARCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by: John Newsome from: USA
    August 07, 2014 2:26 PM
    Why was the White House not equally concerned about the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza?
    In Response

    by: BernieBurnbaum from: USA
    August 07, 2014 10:50 PM
    Because it was the Gazans who started the killing and it's Hamas who is using Gazans for human shields. It's easier to stop terrorists from killing other people that it is to stop terrorists from killing their own.
    In Response

    by: Ziggy Stardust from: Fiji
    August 07, 2014 6:08 PM
    Ask Hamas...Perhaps Hamas needs to stop placing their missle launching pads in populated areas. Better yet, Hamas needs to stop what they started, firing missles into Israel. If you agree with Hamas, and their need to wipe Jews off the planet, then you pal, clearly are an Anti-Semite. The Palestinians do not want Hamas negotiating on their behalf, Hamas only wants war, they requested a release of all of their comrades currently residing in Israeli jails in order to extend the cease fire. Wow, let our murdering brethren go and we will stop firing missles at you, is that what POTUS needs to consider in your opinion?

    by: Haled from: Lebanon
    August 07, 2014 2:25 PM
    the truth is that only Israel can do anything about this diseased Islamic malignancy... I live in Lebanon, I am Christian and i feel great affinity with and love to Israel, and even in my neighborhood Hezbollah is saying that without Israeli intervention they will get slaughtered. all the Iranians have fled.

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    August 07, 2014 2:22 PM
    This is a defeatist agenda, a surrender, an apology. When you show that you have no ideas, then try the UN to raise an army to save the situation. It should not end in excuses while towns are falling, people are dying, and the Islamist State continues to destroy civilization's gains that were not come by easily. While it proves difficult to throw in the towel - of course president Obama did not bargain for what he is getting in his presidency at the White House - that is not good enough reason to let things drift into oblivion and allow the gains made over the centuries to be wiped by a mad set of islamists. Somebody should rise to save the situation.

    Excuses are not enough. And surely it must not be president Obama leading all the time when he has proved himself incapable of leading a country during crisis period. Naivety is the name of his system. If that remains and he has to leave the seat in another two years, should the world be allowed to run aground until another leader arises? Where are the Britons, Germans, Russians, Italians and French? The US has done so much to put everything at its stable and perhaps did not envisage a time like this - no knowledgeable or pragmatic leadership - and no one to fill the gap when the US is incapable, as it is now. Giving excuses is not going to save the situation, someone should rise, and quickly too, before the islamist virus wipes out the entire humanity and civilization.
    In Response

    by: johncbeaaasley from: South
    August 07, 2014 10:44 PM
    Just wondering if anybody in DC is covering our credibility tonight....Hillary is gone and we got Kerry & barry...what could go wrong?
    In Response

    by: naksuthin
    August 07, 2014 10:18 PM
    Here's my suggestion
    Every American who wants the US to get involved

    1. Go to your nearest gun store and buy an assault rifle and all the ammo you can pack in a suitcase

    2. Book a flight to Iraq

    You can be there in 4 days at the most.
    That way you can represent the USA...use your own money instead of taxpayer dollars...and endanger your own life instead of someone else's
    Comments page of 2
     Previous    

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.