US military bombs two more targets in northern Iraq
Members of Congress support air strikes but Republicans question Obama’s long-term strategy
Sheltering on mountain
Sunni fighters from the Islamic State, an al-Qaeda offshoot rejected as too extreme by Osama bin Laden’s successors, have swept through northern Iraq since June. Their advance has dramatically accelerated in the past week when they routed Kurdish troops near the Kurdish autonomous region in the north.
Attention has focused on the plight of Yazidis, Christians and other minority groups in northern Iraq, which has been one of the most diverse parts of the Middle East for centuries.
“The stakes for Iraq’s future can also not be clearer,” US secretary of state John Kerry said today. The Islamic State’s “campaign of terror against the innocent, including the Christian minority, and its grotesque targeted acts of violence show all the warning signs of genocide.”
The US Defense Department said planes dropped 72 bundles of supplies, including 8,000 ready-to-eat meals and thousands of gallons of drinking water, for threatened civilians near Sinjar, home of the Yazidis, ethnic Kurds who practice an ancient faith related to Zoroastrianism.
The Islamic State considers them to be “devil worshippers”. After fighters ordered them to leave, convert or die, most fled their towns and villages to camp out on Sinjar mountain, an arid peak where they believe Noah settled after the biblical flood.
“After we fled to the mountain, I returned one day to recover belongings and I saw the bodies of the elderly disabled men who had been shot dead by the Islamic State. They were too old to flee. I can’t forget that scene,” said Akram Edo, who escaped to Kurdish-held territory with seven children.
His brother Hameed Edo, still back on the mountain with five children, told Reuters by telephone water was running out and no aid had arrived for the civilians trapped in the wilderness.
Mahma Khalil, a Yazidi lawmaker in Baghdad, said: “We hear through the media there is American help, but there is nothing on the ground.... Please save us! SOS! save us!” he said. “Our people are in the desert. They are exposed to a genocide.”
Trample our dead bodies
In the Kurdish capital, suddenly near the front line for the first time after a decade of war, defiant residents said they were stockpiling weapons and prepared to defend the city.
“People with children took them to their families (outside Arbil), but the men have stayed,” said Abu Blind (44), working at a tea stall in Arbil bazaar. “They will have to trample over our dead bodies to reach Arbil.”
The Kurdish region has until now been the only part of Iraq to survive the past decade of civil war without a serious security threat. Its vaunted “peshmerga” fighters - those who confront death - also controlled wide stretches of territory outside the autonomous zone, which served as sanctuary for fleeing Christians and other minorities when Islamic State fighters arrived in the region last month.