Pope Francis ‘Dismayed’ by Violence and Suffering in Iraq
Naharnet/Pope Francis expressed “dismay and disbelief” on Sunday over the violence in Iraq, calling for an “effective political solution” to a crisis which has forced thousands to flee their homes.
Giving the traditional Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, the head of the Roman Catholic Church renewed his call for prayer and assistance for those hit by the conflict. “The news reports coming from Iraq leave us in dismay and disbelief: thousands of people, including many Christians, driven from their homes in a brutal manner; children dying of thirst and hunger in their flight; women taken and carried off; violence of every kind,” he said. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes in northern Iraq due to the rapid advance of jihadists from the Islamic State (IS).
On Thursday, around 100,000 were forced to abandon the city of Qaraqosh, which had Iraq’s largest Christian population. Thousands of members of the minority Yazidi community also fled into the mountains to escape the militant advance. With concerns growing for those still trapped in the region, the pope said he had nominated Cardinal Fernando Filoni as his “special envoy” to travel to Iraq on Monday “in order better to ensure those dear suffering populations of my closeness to them.” Filoni, a former papal nuncio to Iraq, is due to visit Iraqi Kurdistan, where the majority of Christian refugees are sheltering. The pope said he was “confident that an effective political solution on both the international and the local levels may be found to stop these crimes and re-establish the [rule of] law,” and thanked those who “are bringing succor” to those who are suffering. He discussed the fighting in Gaza, which he described as “a war that cuts down innocent victims and does nothing but worsen the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians”. And he also mentioned the battle against Ebola, which has killed close to 1,000 people in west Africa, calling on his followers to “pray for the victims of the Ebola virus and for those who are fighting to stop it.” A Roman Catholic priest from Spain, who caught the virus in Liberia, is currently receiving treatment in isolation at a hospital in Madrid.A number of other missionary and health workers are among those who have either caught or died from the virus. Agence France Presse
ISIS kills 500 Yazidis, buries some victims alive
Ahmed Rasheed| Reuters/BAGHDAD: Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 members of Iraq’s Yazidi ethnic minority during their offensive in the north, Iraq’s human rights minister told Reuters Sunday. Mohammad Shia al-Sudani said the Sunni militants had also buried alive some of their victims, including women and children. Some 300 women were kidnapped as slaves, he added.
“We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar,” Sudani said in a telephone interview, in his first remarks to the media on the issue. Sinjar is the ancient home of the Yazidis, one of the towns captured by the Sunni militants who view the community as “devil worshipers” and tell them to convert to Islam or face death. A deadline passed at midday Sunday for 300 Yazidi families to convert to Islam or face death at the hands of the militants. It was not immediately clear whether the Iraqi minister was talking about the fate of those families or others in the conflict. “Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar,” Sudani said. The minister’s comments could pile pressure on the United States – which has carried out air strikes on Islamic State targets in response to the group’s latest push through the north – to provide more extensive support.”In some of the images we have obtained there are lines of dead Yazidis who have been shot in the head while the Islamic State fighters cheer and wave their weapons over the corpses,” said Sudani. “This is a vicious atrocity.” The Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, has prompted tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians to flee for their lives during their push to within a 30-minute drive of the Kurdish regional capital Irbil. Earlier in their push through northern Iraq, Islamic State, which also considers all Shiites heretics who must repent or die, boasted of killing hundreds of captive Shiite soldiers after capturing the city of Tikrit on June 12. They put footage on the Internet of their fighters shooting prisoners.
The Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism, are spread over northern Iraq and are part of the country’s Kurdish minority.
Many of their villages were destroyed when Saddam Hussein’s troops tried to crush the Kurds during his iron-fisted rule. Some were taken away by the executed former leader’s intelligence agents.
Now they are on the defensive again. Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled for their lives after Kurdish fighters abandoned them in the face of Islamic State militants, and are trapped on a mountain near Sinjar at risk of starvation.”We spoke to some of the Yazidis who fled from Sinjar. We have dozens of accounts and witness testimonies describing painful scenes of how Islamic State fighters arrived and took girls from their families by force to use them as slaves,” Sudani said. “The terrorist Islamic State has also taken at least 300 Yazidi women as slaves and locked some of them inside a police station in Sinjar and transferred others to the town of Tal Afar. We are afraid they will take them outside the country.” “The international community should submit to the fact that the atrocities of the Islamic State will not stop in Iraq and could be repeated somewhere else if no urgent measures were taken to neutralise this terrorist group,” Sudani said. “It’s now the responsibility of the international community to take a firm stand against the Islamic State to reach a consensus on a legitimate decision to start the war on Islamic State to stop genocides and atrocities against civilians.” The militant group, which arrived in northern Iraq in June, has routed Kurds in its latest advance, seizing several towns, a fifth oilfield and Iraq’s biggest dam – possibly gaining the ability to flood cities and cut off water and power supplies.
Thousands Escape Iraq Mountain Death Trap
Thousands of displaced Iraqis who had been besieged on a mountain by jihadists escaped to safety Sunday while Western powers ramped up efforts to save those still stranded with air drops.
Three days after U.S. President Barack Obama ordered warplanes back in the skies over Iraq to avert what he said could be an impending genocide, France and Britain joined the humanitarian response.
An attack by extremist Islamic State (IS) militants on the Sinjar region a week ago sent thousands — many of them from the Yazidi minority — scurrying into a nearby mountain. Stranded on Mount Sinjar in searing summer heat with little food and water, Yazidi lawmaker Vian Dakhil had warned Saturday that they would not survive much longer. But on Sunday, she and other officials said at least 20,000 had managed to flee the siege, with the help of Kurdish troops, and cross into northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region via Syria. “20,000 to 30,000 have managed to flee Mount Sinjar but there are still thousands on the mountain,” she told AFP. “The passage isn’t 100 percent safe. There is still a risk.” An official from the Kurdish regional government in charge of the Fishkhabur crossing point between Syria and Iraq said 30,000 had crossed, mainly Saturday and Sunday. Foreign aid groups operating in the region confirmed several thousand survivors of the Mount Sinjar siege had transited through Syria and crossed back into Iraq. Kurdish forces from Iraq, Syria and Turkey have worked together in a bid to rescue the displaced Kurdish-speaking Yazidis and other civilians trapped on the mountain.
– Air drops –
The breakthrough appeared to coincide with U.S. airstrikes on IS fighters in the Sinjar area on Saturday. US forces “successfully (conducted) four airstrikes to defend Yazidi civilians being indiscriminately attacked” near Sinjar, the U.S. military said late Saturday. U.S. and Iraqi cargo planes have been air dropping food and water over Mount Sinjar, a barren 60-kilometre (35 miles) ridge that local legend holds as the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. Britain joined the effort overnight Saturday with its first air drop over Sinjar of food and water. “The world has been shocked by the plight of the Yazidi community,” said International Development Minister Justine Greening. “Last night the RAF (Royal Air Force) successfully dropped lifesaving UK aid supplies, including clean water and filtration devices, on the mountain.” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also arrived in Iraq, where he briefly met officials in Baghdad before flying to Arbil, to oversee the delivery of France’s first aid consignment. The capital of autonomous Kurdistan is where much of the security and humanitarian response is being coordinated. One of the key justifications Obama gave on Thursday for the first U.S. military operation in Iraq since the last US troops left the country in 2011 was the protection of US personnel in Arbil.
The jihadist group IS, which has controlled parts of Syria for months, took the main northern Iraqi city of Mosul on June 10, exactly two months ago. It has since swept through much of the Sunni heartland and notched up devastating victories against federal and Kurdish troops, seizing Iraq’s largest dam and causing mass displacement. Over the past week alone, 200,000 people have been forced to flee from their homes, including all the residents of Iraq’s largest Christian town Qaraqosh.
– ‘Broad-based government’ –
At pains to assure war-weary Americans he was not being dragged into a new Iraqi quagmire, Obama put the onus on Iraqi politicians to form an inclusive government and turn the tide on jihadist expansion which has brought Iraq closer than ever to breakup. His comments were yet another nudge for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to step aside and allow for a consensus government by abandoning what looks like an increasingly desperate bid to seek a third term.
Fabius hammered home the same message after meeting Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani in Baghdad Sunday. “In this time, Iraq particularly needs a broad-based unity government because all Iraqis need to feel represented to wage the fight against terrorism together,” he said. Federal Iraqi forces completely folded when IS militants launched their offensive.
The cash-strapped autonomous Kurdish region’s peshmerga force has also struggled and turning Sunni Arabs against the jihadists is seen as the key to rolling back two months of losses. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier added his country’s support for the U.S. strikes. “Given the humanitarian catastrophe we support the targeted action by the U.S.,” he said. “The U.S. measures are important also to impede the further advance” of IS insurgents.Obama did not give a timetable for the U.S. military intervention but said Saturday that Iraq’s problems would not be solved in weeks. “This is going to be a long-term project,” he said. Kurdish and federal officials have welcomed the U.S. strikes as a much-needed morale boost and an opportunity to regroup and plan a joint fightback.
Agence France Presse