Hundreds of Iraqi men, women and children brimming into vehicles have fled their homes, fearing clashes, kidnapping and rape after Islamic militants detained large swaths of northern Iraq.
The families and fleeing soldiers who arrived yesterday at a checkpoint at the northern frontier of this largely autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq were among some half-million people who have fled their homes since Monday, according to a UN estimate.
Workers were busily extending the Khazer checkpoint in the frontier area known as Kalak, where displaced women hungrily munched on sandwiches distributed by aid workers and soldiers rushed to process people.
The exodus began after fighters of the al-Qaeda breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, seized the northern city of Mosul in a stunning assault on Monday.
Since then, the militants have moved southward toward the capital, Baghdad, in the biggest crisis to face Iraq in years. “Masked men came to our house and they threatened us: ‘We will get to you.’ So we fled,” said abed, a labourer who abandoned his home on the edge of Mosul yesterday.
“They kidnapped other people. They took away some people for interrogation.”
The young man said rumours were quickly spreading those Islamic State fighters, as well as masked bandits taking advantage of the chaos, were seizing young women for rape or forced marriage.
“They are destroying the honour of families,” said Abed, who, like many of the displaced, wouldn’t give his full name, fearing the Islamic State fighters.
Many of the displaced said they were on the move because they feared vengeance by Iraq’s military, underscoring the grave sectarian tensions that have allowed the Islamic State fighters, who are Sunni extremists, to conquer so fast and deeply.
Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city is mostly Sunni, and many residents have long complained of discrimination and mistreatment by the Shiite-dominated central government.
Obama’s word of warning
US President Barack Obama has endangered US military strike against ISIL who want to establish their own state in Iraq and Syria.
“I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria,” Obama said at the White House when asked whether he was contemplate air strikes.
Obama said he was looking at “all option” to help Iraq’s leaders, who was in full command when the US occupation ended in 2011.
Officials later stressed that ground troops would not be sent in.
Obama also referred to long standing US complaints that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had unsuccessful to do adequate to cure a sectarian gap that has left many in the hefty Sunni minority, who were shut out of power when US troops overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003, nursing grievances.
“This should be also a wakeup call for the Iraqi government. There has to be a political component to this,” Obama said.