One million fleeing Iraqis seek refuge in Kurdish north

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By Fareed Hassan

Azzaman, July 23, 2014

More than one million Iraqis have sought refuge in the semi-independent Kurdish region since militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) occupied three major Iraqi provinces as well as large swaths of territory in two others.

Most of those fleeing the rule of ISIS, whose militants stormed north and west of Iraq last month, have been members of Iraqi minorities such as Christians, Shebeks, Turkmen and Yazidis.

However, many Sunni Muslims, who disagree with ISIS’s strict interpretation of Islamic jurisdiction have also fled Mosul, the provincial capital of Nineveh.

Governor of Arbil Province Nawzat Hadi said the latest influx was straining the Kurdish budget and the large numbers of internal refugees were too many for the region to handle.

Arbil is the seat of the Kurdish regional government. The Kurdish autonomous region comprises two more provinces – Dahouk and Sulaimaniya, but the Kurds, taking advantage of the current chaos in Iraq have moved their militias into the oil-rich Province of Kirkuk and have vowed to add it to their region.

Hadi said most of the Iraqis displaced by ISIS have headed to Arbil, but the authorities were trying to build new refugee camps to house them.

The towns and villages within the provincial territories of Nineveh, particularly those under Kurdish militia – peshmerqa – control are occasionally attacked by ISIS, causing panic and forcing more people to flee to Kurdish north.

Kurdish peshmerqa are present mainly in the string of villages to the east and north of Mosul, which are mainly inhabited by Christians and other minorities.

ISIS militants do not tolerate Christians, Yazidis and Muslim Shiites of Kurdish or Turkish origins, who have lived in Mosul for centuries.

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite Turkmen and Shebek have fled Mosul and the villages in its outskirts, with many settling in southern provinces.

More than 30,000 Shiite families from the area of Mosul have fled to Najaf, said Radhwan al-Kindi, a member of Najaf’s provincial council.