200,000 Flee Northern Iraq Overnight as ISIS Overtakes Largest Christian Stronghold
The terrorist group Islamic State has taken over Qaraqosh, the largest remaining Christian enclave in Iraq. With the conquest of Qaraqosh and a further onslaught north into Assyrian territory, reports have surfaced that up to 200,000 Assyrian Christians have fled their homes and are without food, water, or shelter in northern Iraq.
The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports that 200,000 Assyrians have fled the area of the Nineveh Plain now controlled by Islamic State (the former ISIS), whose jihadists surged northward from the months-ago captured city of Mosul to begin exterminating those who were not Sunni Muslims living in surrounding areas.
AINA adds that Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in the nation, "is now nearly completely empty of Assyrians" after a flight that began as recently as 2:30 a.m. local time Wednesday. Assyrians are an ethnic minority in Iraq who are almost entirely Christian. Having taken Qaraqosh, Islamic State jihadists are now moving northward and claiming cities that Assyrian refugees abandoned in the wake of the Qaraqosh assault, finding no resistance.
The push north, Reuters notes, places the Islamic State at the border with Kurdistan. Christians of Assyrian background and otherwise have depended almost entirely on the Kurdish military, the Peshmerga, to protect them from ISIS's attacks. In Kurdish cities like Erbil, Christians have found safe refuge when the Iraqi military has long since fled. The 200,000 fleeing this week add to an estimated 500,000 Christians that are now internally displaced within Iraq, many retreating to Kurdish territories.
The news of ISIS's siege of Qaraqosh follows a week of particularly gruesome violence in Iraq as the terrorist group seeks to ethnically cleanse Iraq of another minority, the Yazidi. Yazidi Iraqis, ethnically Kurdish, subscribe to their own religion, related to Islam, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, in which they believe a monotheistic god has assigned control of Earth to a "Peacock Angel." The belief has branded Yazidis "devil worshippers" in the eyes of Islamist extremists and triggered a violent attack on the city of Sinjar. As a result, thousands of Yazidi have fled to the mountain above the city of Sinjar; without food or water, they will soon starve, but coming down from the mountain means certain death at the hands of ISIS.
The New York Times reported Thursday that President Obama is considering an air strike on ISIS and dropping humanitarian aid on Mount Sinjar to help the Yazidis stranded there. No special actions have been taken by the United States government to save the displaced Christians. The United States has offered surveillance drones and other technology to the Iraqi government, but not to the Kurdish Peshmerga, under whom most Yazidis and Christians live.