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Using words like "dreadful," "disaster," and "deplorable," Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad Louis Raphael I Sako described the chaotic situation of refugees forced to leave their ancestral villages in Iraq because of Islamic fundamentalist militants.
Patriarch Sako also said he was disappointed in President Barack Obama’s decision "only to give military assistance to protect Erbil." While the Islamic terrorists are strong and well-funded, the United States is "not up to a rapid solution to give hope specifically as they are not going to attack the ISIS in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain."
Patriarch Sako, president of the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops in Iraq, said in a statement today, "Death and sickness are grabbing the children and elderly people among the thousands of refugee families spread over the Kurdistan Region who lost everything in the recent tragic developments while the ISIS Militants are still advancing and the humanitarian aid is insufficient."
And yet, the patriarch’s report seems tame compared to other gruesome details emerging from Iraq. Anglican Communion News Service reports that the five-year-old son of a founding member of Baghdad’s Anglican church was cut in half during an attack by the Islamic State on the Christian town of Qaraqosh.
"In an interview today, an emotional Canon Andrew White told ACNS that he christened the boy several years ago, and that the child’s parents had named the lad Andrew after him. ‘I’m almost in tears because I’ve just had somebody in my room whose little child was cut in half,’ he said. ‘I baptized his child in my church in Baghdad.’”
Later on Sunday, though, there was better news for Christians and other religious minorities. Kurdish forces retook two towns from the Sunni militants that have seized large parts of northern Iraq, said a senior Kurdish military official, amid of a building international response that has included aidrops and airstrikes.
Brig. Gen. Shirko Fatih said the Kurdish fighters were able to push the militants of the Islamic State group out of the villages of Makhmour and al-Gweir some 45 kilometers from Irbil, in one of the first victories by the Kurdish forces that until now have been in retreat. The victories by the radical Sunni militants that adhere to an extremist intolerant interpretation of Islam have sent tens of thousands of the country’s minorities fleeing from their homes in fear in a situation that has grabbed world attention.
The United States announced a fourth round of airstrikes Sunday against militant vehicles and mortars firing on Irbil as part of its small-scale series of attacks meant to discourage the Sunni fighters from endangering U.S. personnel near the Kurdish capital.
During a visit to Baghdad, France’s foreign minister said that Paris will provide "several tons" of aid to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and called upon leaders in Baghdad to unite against Sunni militants who have seized large parts of the country.
Speaking at a press conference with Iraq’s acting Foreign Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, Laurent Fabius said his visit is aimed at boosting humanitarian efforts in northern Iraq, where tens of thousands of minority Yazidis have fled into the mountains and even into neighboring Syria to escape the extremist Islamic State group.
Britain for its part said its air force has already dropped water containers and solar lanterns over the Sinjar mountains where the Yazidis have taken refuge with little food and water.
An ancient religion with links to Zoroastrianism, the Yazidis have been given a choice of converting to Islam or dying, by the militants.
U.S. fighter jets and drones have also attacked militants firing on the Yazidis around Sinjar, which is in the far west of the country near the Syrian border.
After Kurdish fighters opened a path to the border, thousands of Yazidis have been pouring across the river into Kurdish-controlled parts of Syria. Those crossing told The Associated Press they had lost their sisters, daughters, children and their elderly parents, describing militants randomly spraying machine gun fire in their direction as they fled.
Patriarch Sako said there are 70,000 displaced Christians in Ankawa, near Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, along with other religious minorities in a city that already has a population of more than 25,000 Christians. He said families who found shelter in churches or schools are in a "rather good condition," but that others, sleeping on streets and in public parks, "are in a deplorable situation."
"In Dohuk, the number of Christian refugees’ amount to more than 60,000, and their situation is worse than those in Erbil," the patriarch said. Others have gone to Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, and Baghdad.
The patriarch lamented that the needs for housing, food, water, and medicine are escalating, while "international coordination is slowing and limiting the realization of an effective assistance to these thousands awaiting immediate support. The Churches are offering everything within their capacity."
Meanwhile, in Mosul and in the Christian villages left behind by the refugees, churches are deserted and have been desecrated; five bishops have been forced to leave their bishoprics, priests and nuns have left their missions and institutions, and families have fled with their children, abandoning everything. "The level of disaster is extreme," he said.
Commenting on solutions for the problems, he said: "The position of the American president Obama only to give military assistance to protect Erbil is disappointing. The talks about dividing Iraq are threatening. The Americans are not up to a rapid solution to give hope specifically as they are not going to attack the ISIS in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain. The confirmation that this terrible situation will continue until the Iraqi Security Forces will fight along with Peshmerga against the ISIS militants is very depressing. The President of the Kurdistan Region said that the Kurdish troops are fighting with a terrorist State and not minor groups. While the country is under fire, the politicians in Baghdad are fighting for power."
He expressed his fear that in the end, neither Mosul nor the villages of the Nineveh Plain will be liberated. "There is no strategy to dry up the sources of manpower and the resources of these Islamic terrorists," he said. "They control the oil town of Zumar and the oil fields of Ain Zalah and Batma along with the oil fields of Al-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor in Syria. The Islamic extremist fighters are joining them from different countries around the world."
Thus, refugee families have the choice to migrate—if they have the money and necessary documents (though many had their identity papers and passports stolen by the Islamic terrorists as they fled their towns)—or stay in their refugee camps, living in a kind of limbo.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.