Hundreds of Sunni families in Iraq are fleeing into Kurdish territory fearing that anti-ISIS militias may wreak revenge as they advance on Tikrit.
According to The Times, the exodus comes as the Iraqi army advances on the ISIS-held city, with refugees speaking of an increasing sense of terror among Sunni Muslims that the city could be taken by Shia militias who will seek to avenge ISIS brutality.
One woman said: “In the same way that Isis killed those at Camp Speicher, they will kill us,” referring to the massacre of Shia personnel at the former US army camp back in June.
Another said: “The Iraqi air force is hitting civilian areas imprecisely, and the militias are using mortar bombs.”
Analysts told the Times that forcing ISIS out of Tikrit could have the ironic effect of sparking a new series of human rights abuses. Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics said: “If there is a real threat of an atrocity anywhere, it is there. If it happens it will be the starting gun for the next round of the civil war.”
Kurdish officials have so far been wary of taking in Sunni refugees for fear of potential ISIS sleeper cells. The Kurdish region is estimated to now have 1.2 million refugees, the majority of whom are from sects such as the Yazidi tribe.
The Times reports that the crossing point at Maktab Khalid is now an unofficial transit route between Kurdish and ISIS-held territory, with supplies such as alcohol and cigarettes – banned by ISIS – being smuggled across from Kurdistan.
There is also a brisk trade in fuel, with prices being up to four times higher in ISIS-held territory. Peshmerga commander Colonel Fatih Mohammad Amin said: “On both sides the business people are suffering, but on the Arab side there is much more damage. We have other borders for trade.”