Christians flee to Kurdistan as IS rebels seize key Iraqi towns
BAGHDAD: Thousands of Christian families on Thursday
fled their homes in northern Iraq after militants of Islamic State (IS) Sunni
insurgent group seized several predominantly Christian areas in Nineveh
governorate, security sources said.
The IS rebels took the cities of al-Hamdaniya and
Telkif, north of Mosul, after defeating the Kurdish Peshmerga forces who
controlled the area, the sources told Efe news agency. The Islamic extremists
also captured Bertala, al-Kuir and Ba’shiqah, inhabited both by Muslims and
Christians, near Erbil, the capital of the Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
Thousands of families abandoned their homes and fled
to neighbouring Kurdistan in search for a safe haven, the sources said. The IS
took control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, last June, and since then it
has advanced to other regions including Sinjar, making it closer to the last
border crossing with Syria which it does not control.
The IS has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria to
create an Islamic caliphate and has warned Christians they should convert to
Islam or leave. The rebel takeover of Sinjar three days ago led some 200,000
civilians to flee to the nearby mountains, mostly Kurds of the religious Yazidi
The refugees, who are trying to reach Kurdistan,
urgently need water, food, shelter and medicines, the UN’s Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spokesman David Swanson told Efe.
According to OCHA, since January 2014, the surge in
violence between government forces and armed groups has displaced 1.2 million
people in central and northern Iraq.
According to an earlier Xoinhua report, the latest
fall of towns into the hands of the militants came amid fierce clashes between
the Kurdish Peshmerga security forces and Islamic State militants. The Kurdish
Peshmerga forces have launched a major offensive to fight back the IS militants
who seized earlier many towns in Nineveh.
The Peshmerga has since retaken control of some
villages and part of Sinjar, but so far the Kurds have apparently failed to
take full control of the town and the other areas seized earlier by the IS