Jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS or ISIL) who have seized towns in northern Iraq in recent days have forced at least 100,000 Christians to flee to Kurdistan, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako said.
"There are 100,000 displaced Christians who have fled with nothing but their clothes, some of them on foot, to reach the Kurdistan region," Sako told AFP.
"This is a humanitarian disaster. The churches are occupied, their crosses were taken down," said Sako, the leader of Iraq's largest Christian denomination, which is aligned with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Islamists have also occupied churches and burned up to 1,500 manuscripts, Sako said.
Video: Stranded Yazidis facing thirst and starvation on Sinjar mountain
Meanwhile, the UN said Thursday that some of the thousands of Yazidis trapped by ISIS fighters on Sinjar mountain, in the north of the country, have been rescued in the past 24 hours.
Around 50,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority have been stranded on the mountain since fleeing an ISIS attack on the weekend, with little access to food or water.
ISIS regards the Yazidis, followers of an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism and part of the Iraq’s Kurdish minority, as “devil worshippers”, making them prime targets for the militants.
Iraq's largest Christian town seized
ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State, swept across much of Iraq's Sunni heartland two months ago, attacking several towns and villages east of its main hub of Mosul, the country's second-largest city. Tens of thousands of Christians fled Mosul as the Islamists advanced.
Among those seized was Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian town with a population of around 50,000, and several surrounding areas that were previously controlled by Kurdish peshmerga fighters.
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Fleeing residents reached by phone as they tried to enter the neighbouring autonomous region of Kurdistan confirmed the jihadist takeover.
Witnesses said the towns have been completely emptied of their usual population.
"Daash (ISIS) militants last night attacked most villages in the Nineveh plains, firing mortar rounds and seizing some of them," Sako said, speaking from his base in Kirkuk.
"The government is unable to defend our people, as is the Kurdistan government. They need to work together, receive international support and modern military equipment."
"Today we appeal with lots of pain and sadness, to all people of good will, the UN Security Council, European Union and relief organisations, to help those people who are facing mortal danger," Sako said.
"I hope it is not too late to avoid a genocide," he added.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-08-07