Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, was seized over night by Islamic State militants, as Kurdish forces were forced to withdraw. IS fighters have also taken Iraq’s largest dam, the Mosul dam complex, which supplies much of Iraq’s water.
In the face of the IS advance, at least a quarter of Qaraqosh’s residents are reported to have left the town, fearing that they would be subjected to the same demands the Sunni jihadists have made in other captured areas, either leave, convert to Islam or face death.
The militants captured Iraq’s largest dam in just one hour on Thursday. The Mosul dam complex, north of Iraq’s second largest city, sits on the Tigris River and controls much of Iraq’s water supplies. The Islamic State had been fighting Kurdish Peshmerga forces for control of the dam for about a week.
Islamic State militants defeated Kurdish Peshmerga forces during their latest offensive, which started last weekend. Now their reputation as fearsome independent warriors has been called into doubt, although the Kurds haven’t crumbled like the Iraqi army and are, in fact, only lightly armed.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday said he was “deeply appalled” by the recent IS attacks in Kirkuk and Qaraqosh and urged the international community to help the country’s government.
Ban called “on the international community, especially those with the influence and resources to positively impact the situation, to support the Government and people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict in Iraq.”
The Islamic State, which is more extreme than Al-Qaeda, sees Iraq’s majority Shiites as well as minorities like the Christians and the Yazidis as infidels.
As Christians in the region flee for their lives, Baghdad, the Kurds and regional powers have been powerless in the face of IS advances.
The Kurdish withdrawal from Sinjar prompted tens of thousands of people from the ancient Yazidi community to flee to the nearby mountains where up to 50,000 are now surrounded by IS militants. Up to 200,000 people have fled the fighting in the Sinjar area in recent days, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, adding that some people had been rescued from Sinjar Mountain over the past 24 hours.
Many of the refugees on the mountain urgently need water, food and medicine; they are suffering from dehydration and as many as 40 children have died.
Witnesses have also said that IS has seized control of Makhmur, although Kurdish officials denied this and broadcast footage of Peshmerga fighters driving around the town, Reuters reports.
The Islamic State poses the biggest threat to Iraq since the civil war, which peaked during the US occupation in 2006-2007, and now controls most of western and northern Iraq.
As well as persecuting Iraq’s Christians and Yazidis, the Sunni jihadists have also been targeting Shiite Muslims and ethnic Turkmen minorities.
Bombings and executions continue in other areas of Iraq that IS do not control. In Baghdad, car bombings on Wednesday in a crowded Shiite market killed 59 and wounded 125.
Despite carrying out airstrikes against IS positions on Wednesday, the Iraqi government has been powerless to halt their advance.Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, has clung on to power since an inconclusive election in April and has defied calls from fellow Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to step down and find a less divisive figure to unite Iraq in the face of the IS threat.
The Islamic State want to create a medieval style caliphate across Iraq and Syria stretching to the Mediterranean and has recently tried to extend their bloody campaign to Lebanon, but were beaten back by the Lebanese army.
Meanwhile Pope Francis appealed to world leaders on Thursday to help the Christians in northern Iraq.