The president declares "mission accomplished," but on the ground a different picture emerges.
Are we doing enough to rescue religious minorities fleeing an Islamist onslaught in northern Iraq?
The Obama Administration seems to think so, and was in a self-congratulatory mood Thursday after carrying out several airdrops of refugee aid and airstrikes against ISIS forces trying to kill Yazidis.
But Yazidi refugees and Kurdish officials warned of a continued humanitarian disaster, the Wall Street Journalreported.
Humanitarian aid group Aid to the Church in Need spokeswoman Regina Lynch said in a telephone interview today from Iraqi Kurdistan that Christian refugees want to return to their villages but only on condition that there’s “an assurance of international protection” to avoid the risk of enduring another offensive by the Islamic State militants.
In a letter written this week, a copy of which was obtained by Aleteia, Iraqi Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel wrote, "We are in Ankawa [pictured, near Irbil], where several thousand Christians are without shelter and sleep in church pews, parks and sidewalks, in miserable and inhumane conditions. It’s a shame to see crowds of humiliated families, children and elderly…. We are asking first for humanitarian aid and then the assurance of protection and later a means to leave for a new land…"
In televised remarks Thursday, Obama said U.S. airstrikes on the Islamic State militants, also known as ISIL, had broken what he called their siege of Mount Sinjar, where tens of thousands of people had been trapped without adequate food or water.
"The situation on the mountain has greatly improved," due to U.S. airdrops of supplies, which he signaled would be halted.
His announcement came after a U.S. assessment team, which spent nearly 24 hours on the mountain, concluded on Wednesday that a large number of trapped Yazidis had already managed to flee. That made it unlikely that the U.S. would carry out a risky evacuation, as had been considered.
"We helped vulnerable people reach safety and we helped save many innocent lives," the president said.
But the UN, Kurdish officials, and refugees paint a different picture. Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters at the U.N. by phone from Dahuk City in northern Iraq that he spent Thursday afternoon at the Pesh Kabur crossing talking to people coming down from Mount Sinjar.
"The crisis on the mountain will not be over until everybody is able to come off that mountain to a safe and secure location in a safe and secure manner," Dwyer said. "We can say with 100 percent clarity that nobody went up to that mountain because they really wanted to. They fled for their lives."
The United Nations has designated its highest level emergency for the humanitarian crisis, citing the scale and complexity of the situation, which is impacting tens of thousands of people that have been forcefully displaced by the Islamic State.
The “Level 3 Emergency” designation will “facilitate mobilization of additional resources in goods, funds, and assets to ensure a more effective response to the humanitarian needs of populations affected by forced displacements,” said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov.
UN officials are particularly concerned about the situation on Sinjar Mountain, where families remain trapped and the health conditions are quickly deteriorating.
Among them is Marzio Babille, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Iraq, who also confirmed that the agency and other humanitarian actors are stepping up efforts to meet the growing needs of those who are being extracted from the mountain, in addition to helping a further 12,000 displaced Christians sheltering in the Kurdish capital, Irbil.