BAHARKE, IRAQ - Kurdish fighters backed by U.S.-led airstrikes have blunted a six-month advance in northern Iraq by Islamic State militants and their supporters. Yet few of the estimated 1 million northern Iraqis who fled the fighting see any hope of returning home soon.
Three thousand of these displaced people are now at the Baharke camp near the Iraqi city of Irbil. Half the residents are under age 17.
As fighters of the IS — known locally as Daesh — advanced, their reputation for brutality preceded them. Twenty-nine year-old Rahma Samir, from the town of Hamdaniya outside Mosul, was among the first to go.
“Around noon everyone was saying that Daesh was coming and we must all flee," she said. "So we left with them.”
People of Arabic, Kurdish and other ethnic origins live in the Baharke camp. There is enough food, but health care is lacking, said deputy camp director Kochar Jaf of the Barzani Charity Foundation that runs the camp.
“Things we need a lot are drugs and medical support," Jaf said. "We try to provide health care, but it’s difficult. We have a large area and many camps.”
Donors have put up tents to house a school, but that is all, said Samir, a mother of five.
“No, there are no lessons," she said. "It doesn’t operate like a school. The children go there for fun. There is no education, just playing.”
All the residents want to return home, but that is not likely to happen soon. The airstrikes have hurt the Islamic State group, said Saadam Hazem, 40, of Mosul, but the militant group is still strong.
“We need more support to liberate all of the city,” Hazem said.
Many residents said that if they were given weapons, they would go back and join the struggle against Islamic State.