Sunday 21 December 2014

UN calls for action to prevent 'massacre' in Iraq by IS

US says insurgents cannot be defeated without attacking their bases in Syria

Oliver Wright 
and Chris Green

Published 24/08/2014 | 02:30

Kurdish security forces inspect the site of a car bomb attack in Kirkuk. Bombings across Iraq killed at least 35 people in attacks that appeared to be revenge for an assault on a Sunni mosque that has deepened sectarian conflict as the UN calls for action to prevent a possible 'massacre' on the northern Iraqi town of Amerli (REUTERS/Ako Rasheed)
Kurdish security forces inspect the site of a car bomb attack in Kirkuk. Bombings across Iraq killed at least 35 people in attacks that appeared to be revenge for an assault on a Sunni mosque that has deepened sectarian conflict as the UN calls for action to prevent a possible 'massacre' on the northern Iraqi town of Amerli (REUTERS/Ako Rasheed)

The UN yesterday called for action to prevent what it says may be a possible massacre in the northern Iraqi town of Amerli.

Special representative Nickolay Mladenov says he is "seriously alarmed" by reports regarding the conditions in which the town's residents live. The town, under siege by Islamic State for two months, has no electricity or drinking water, and is running out of food and medical supplies.

The majority of its residents are Turkmen Shia, seen as apostates by IS.

"The situation of the people in Amerli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens," Mr Mladenov said in a statement.

"I urge the Iraqi government to do all it can to relieve the siege and to ensure that the residents receive life-
saving humanitarian assistance or are evacuated in a dignified manner."

On Friday, the most influential Shia cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, expressed concern over the plight of the town's inhabitants.

Residents say they have had to organise their own resistance to the militants and no foreign aid has reached the town since the siege began.

IS has seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria in recent months. Since August 8, the US has carried out air strikes to support Iraqi and Kurdish troops tackling the insurgents.

On Thursday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel described the group as an imminent threat to the US.

Gen Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said IS was "an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated".

He also said that IS fighters could not be defeated without attacking their bases in Syria. The militants, he said, should be confronted "on both sides of what is essentially at this point a non-existent border".

The Shia-dominated Iraqi government has been trying to secure backing from Sunni groups in its battle against IS jihadists.

Prime Minister designate Haider al-Abadi, a moderate Shia, is trying to form a more inclusive government - following international criticism of outgoing PM Nouri Maliki, who was widely seen as a divisive figure.

The rise of the IS has sparked widespread violence. An attack by suspected Shia militiamen on a Sunni mosque in Iraq's Diyala province killed at least 68 people on Friday.

Yesterday, a suicide bomber blew up a car in central Baghdad, killing at least 11 people and injuring several others.

The IS campaign has displaced an estimated 1.2 million people in Iraq, many of them minority Christians and Yazidis.

Refugees say the hardline Islamists have demanded that Christians and Yazidis convert to Islam, threatening them with death if they refuse.

France welcomed about 40 Iraqi Christian refugees on Friday.

But Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere opposed granting sanctuary to large numbers of refugees from Iraq.

This would give militants "an intolerable victory", Mr de Maiziere told Germany's most popular newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Meanwhile, IS militants are holding up to 10 other Western hostages, including Britons, whose lives are now in grave danger following the murder of the American journalist James Foley.

Reports from the US suggested that at least three other US hostages were being held alongside Mr Foley in the months leading up to his death and threats have been made against their lives.

The militants had demanded a ransom of €100m for Mr Foley's release, his employer said last night. It went unpaid in line with US policy, which prohibits negotiations with terrorists.

The journalist's murder and the threat to Western lives has, so far, not had any effect on US air strikes on Is positions in Iraq. Since the video of his beheading was released last Tuesday, US aircraft have launched 14 strikes, including several yesterday. US Navy fighters and drones also provided air cover for Kurdish and Iraqi forces fighting Is near the city of Mosul.

In the UK, security services have mounted an intensive operation to identify the masked man who spoke with a British accent on the video before executing Mr Foley. They are understood to be using voice-recognition software to trawl police records and extremist material on the internet for a match. A public appeal has also been launched. A former British security official and co-ordinator of the UN's al Qaeda/Taliban monitoring team, said he expected the man to be identified fairly quickly but that bringing him to justice may prove more difficult.

"The most important thing is to demonstrate that you cannot do these things even in the middle of the desert, just because you are in something called Islamic State or the caliphate," he said.

Dozens of journalists and aid workers are thought to have been taken hostage in Iraq and Syria, but few have been named. One is Steven Sotloff, a 31-year-old American journalist, who was captured near Aleppo in northern Syria in August last year. He is being held by the same group responsible for the death of Mr Foley, who have also threatened to kill him.

Haras Rafiq, head of outreach at the UK's counter-extremism group Quilliam, said he was "not surprised" that Mr Foley's killer had a British accent. "We've had decades of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood indoctrinating our youngsters that they have to struggle for this utopian Islamic caliphate."

Is fighters from Western countries were also more likely to compete against each other by committing horrific acts, he added. "There is this massive competition among the Western foreigners who are going out there to be the most barbaric. The Europeans and especially the Britons have taken to it a lot more than some of the Arabs have."

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