ISIS militants advanced into the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar last week, sending thousands of people from the Yazidi minority fleeing to Mount Sinjar. The lucky ones, helped by the US air raids, fled into Syria or into the Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq. Some of the Yazidis are still stuck on the mountain, with no access to food or water.
The Yazidis, one of the world’s smallest and oldest monotheistic religious minorities, are concentrated in northern Iraq, in and around Sinjar. Ethnically, Yazidis are often identified as Kurds as they speak Kurdish. There are about 600,000 Yazidis worldwide.
The Kurds, who form about 15-20 per cent of Iraq’s population, are concentrated in northern Iraq. The region has its own government (Kurdistan Regional Government) and armed forces (peshmerga). Since June, the peshmergas have been defending a 600-mile frontline from the ISIS.
But with the ISIS pushing toward Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, the US launched airstrikes to slow the insurgents’ advance. The peshmergas also secured an escape route for 20,000 Yazidis. Syrian Kurds too have helped people use parts of northeastern Syria to reach out to the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.
ISIS fighters overran Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city of Iraq, last week, causing thousands of Christians in the city to flee. Qaraqosh is a historic Assyrian town of 50,000 people. When ISIS took over Mosul, they allegedly issued an ultimatum to Christians, asking them to “convert to Islam, pay a fine or face death by the sword.”
Iraq is home to one of the world’s most ancient Christian communities but its population has dwindled amid growing sectarian violence. Most Iraqi Christians are Chaldeans, who are communicants with the Roman Catholic church. They predominantly reside in northern Iraq.
In June, ISIS militants captured the northern city of Tal Afar, whose population is mostly made up of Shia Turkmen. In early June, about 34 villages around a small Turkmen town called Amerli fell to the ISIS, but the town is holding out in what is turning out to be one of the longest sieges of the current conflict.
Turkey has begun building a new refugee camp for 20,000 Iraqi Turkmen in northern Iraq. The Turkmen, a Turkic-speaking, traditionally nomadic people, form a small minority, primarily in northern Iraq.
Ever since the ISIS emerged on the scene, claiming to create an Islamic caliphate stretching from Syria to Iraq, the Sunni rebels have targeted Shiites in both Iraq and Syria. On June 18, ISIS took over the town of Basheer, home to a predominantly Shia population.
That marked the first time the militant group had attempted to take over an area dominated by Shiites. In June, the group claimed on Twitter that it had killed at least 1,700 Shiites. Shiites outnumber Sunnis in Iraq, but large portions of Iraq’s western and northern territories have Sunni majority populations.