When Mosul fell into the militant hands, the Islamic State gave members of the many ethnic and religious minorities an ultimatum to convert, pay an exorbitant tax or leave. Those who did not obey risked death.
The peshmerga units had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defense waned in recent weeks as the Islamic State group intensified efforts to expand its territory.
On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to provide aerial support to the peshmerga, in a rare show of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government that underscored the serious nature of this crisis.
In Batella, one of the hamlets overrun overnight, Kurdish fighters and local Christian security guards went knocking on people’s doors, urging them to leave, said Um Fadi, who only gave her knickname, fearing for her own safety.
A government employee who fled from Mosul with her family for refuge in Batella more than two weeks ago, Um Fadi said she was in despair. "Our situation is miserable," she told the AP by phone on Thursday. "We do not know what to do or where to go."
The head of the Kurdish regional government, Nechirvan Barzani, urged Iraqi Kurds "not to panic but to remain calm," stay where they are and continue their "normal work and life."
Last week, the Islamic State also seized the northwestern town of Sinjar, forcing tens of thousands of people from the ancient Yazidi minority to flee into the mountains and the Kurdish region.
Meanwhile, the death toll from a series of bombings in Baghdad on Wednesday rose to 61, after several of those wounded died. A pair of car bombs first exploded in the densely populated Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, followed by another bomb in the nearby area of Ur and two more bombings in southeast Baghdad.
AP also is reporting that militants have seized the country’s largest dam near the city of Mosul.
Also Thursday, the Iraqi parliament was to discuss candidates for the post of prime minister, a first step toward forming a new government. The discussion was postponed Tuesday after officials with al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc, which won the most votes in elections in April, or the larger coalition it is part of should nominate a candidate.
Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has vowed to stand for a third four-year term as prime minister, but many of his critics have called for his removal, accusing him of monopolizing power and alienating Sunni and Kurdish minorities.
Iraq badly needs a government if the country is to unite and confront the threat posed by Islamic State.
Patriarch Sako lamented that the central government in Iraq is “incapable of enforcing law and order” in the region and that the area’s regional government, controlled by Kurds, is also having trouble facing “the fierce advance of the jihadists.”
“Clearly, there is lack of coopration between the central government and the Regional Autonomous Government,” he wrote. “This ‘vacuum’ is profited by the ISIS to impose their rule and terror. There is a need of international support and a professional, well-equipped army. The situation is going from bad to worse.”
Patriarch Sako concluded his letter: “We appeal with sadness and pain to the conscience of all and all people of good will and the United Nations and the European Union, to save these innocent persons from death. We hope it is not too late.”
As ISIS continued to make gains, more world leaders began to speak out. In Washington, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the global human rights subcommittee in the House, called the ordeal Christians in Iraq are undergoing “genocide" and blamed President Obama for failing to lead.
“The evidence of genocide is overwhelming," Smith said. "The question is will we act before it’s too late? Will we act before every Christian in Iraq is exterminated or turned into a refugee? The President’s indifference is both numbing and enabling. We must act.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.