Christian towns in northern Iraq seized by Islamist rebels

Angel with cross

Newscast Media BAGHDAD—Militants from the Islamic State have seized Iraq’s largest
Christian town and surrounding areas in northern Iraq, prompting the exodus of tens
of thousands of people.

The capture of Qaraqosh by the Sunni-led extremists on August 7 followed the
overnight withdrawal of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, who had suffered a humiliating
defeat in the area over the weekend.

Before the Islamic State — then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
(ISIL) — seized large swaths of western and northern Iraq in June and declared a
caliphate, Qaraqosh had a population of about 50,000 people, mostly Christians.

But thousands of displaced Iraqis also fled to Qaraqosh and other nearby towns that
were being defended by Kurdish fighters since the militants seized Mosul in June.
Militants also seized the mostly Christian towns of Tall Kayf, Bartella, and Karamlesh.

The other towns seized by the Islamic State on August 7 also had communities from
the Shabak Shi’ite minority. Reports say almost all of the residents and displaced
Iraqis have fled the towns.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on August 7 called for an emergency meeting
of the UN Security Council over the advances of Islamic militants in Iraq.

Earlier, Pope Francis called for world governments to take steps to protect Christians
driven from their villages in northern Iraq and provide them with humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, Kurdish television reports that Mahmour and Gwar — two Kurdish
settlements less than 40 kilometers west of the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil — fell
to the militants on August 6.

The conquests put the jihadist fighters less than 20 kilometers from the border of
northern Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.

A UN spokesman on August 7 said a total of 200,000 people had fled fighting in
northern Iraq in recent days, creating a “tragedy of immense proportions.”

The Islamic State also claimed it had seized Iraq’s largest dam, the Mosul Dam on the
Tigris River, but Kurdish forces said the dam was still under their control.
The latest militant advances come despite a counterattack on Mosul that was
launched by Kurdish fighters on August 6 in coordination with air strikes by Iraqi
government forces.

Iraqi officials say one air strike on August 6 targeted a building in Mosul that was
under the control of the Sunni militants, killing at least 60 people.
Medical workers said the building was a prison run by the Islamic State since it seized
Mosul in June.

Source: Radio Free Europe

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