Via the Daily Star (h/t Weaselzippers):
Jihadists seized Iraq's largest Christian town and surrounding areas Thursday, sending tens of thousands of panicked residents fleeing in what is being called a humanitarian disaster, officials and witnesses said.
The onslaught saw the Sunni extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) extend its writ over northern Iraq and move within striking distance of autonomous Kurdistan, in one of the most dramatic developments of the two month-old conflict.
ISIS militants moved into Qaraqosh and other towns overnight after the withdrawal of Kurdish peshmerga troops, who are stretched thin across several fronts, residents said.
"Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population and are now under the control of the militants," Joseph Thomas, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, told AFP.
Entirely Christian Qaraqosh is lies between Mosul, the jihadists' main hub in Iraq, and Arbil, the Kurdish region's capital. It usually has a population of around 50,000.
Tal Kayf, the home of a significant Christian community as well as members of the Shabak Shiite minority, also emptied overnight.
"Tal Kayf is now in the hands of ISIS. They faced no resistance and rolled in just after midnight," said Boutros Sargon, a resident who fled and was reached by phone in Arbil.Lest we forget, ISIS and its allies are still relying on terror attacks, including car bombs that have left 63 dead in Baghdad over just the last two days, and 11 people in Kirkuk.
"I heard some gunshots last night and, when I looked outside, I saw a military convoy from ISIS ... shouting 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greatest)."
Apparently the Obama Administration is beginning to bestir itself--there is some consideration of dropping supplies to refugees isolated by ISIS forces, and perhaps even air strikes. This latter article observes:
The UN said it was able to get some supplies overland to the stranded hordes – avoiding Isis fighters who have surrounded most of Mount Sinjar. Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that Turkish helicopters had dropped food and water on the mountain top. Iraqi helicopters have also made food drops, but stranded Yazidis say they do not have enough to survive.
The Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, Joseph Thomas, described the situation in northern Iraq as "catastrophic, a crisis beyond imagination". He demanded urgent intervention to save what remained of the area's Christian heritage.
Kurdish officials on Thursday demanded more help in catering for refugees. The Kurdish administered areas have seen staggering numbers cross their notional border since the original Isis onslaught two months ago. In the first week alone, some 500,000 people are thought to have fled towards Erbil.
The capital of the Kurdish north is already home to a new Chaldean Christian community, which fled Baghdad in the wake of an Isis-led massacre inside a cathedral in October 2010. Many fleeing Christians have headed for the Ainkawa neighbourhood, which is home to Baghdad's Christian exiles.
The past 11 years of war and insurrection since the US invasion have led to most of Iraq's Christians fleeing. Numbers have plummeted starkly from an estimated one million before 2003 to around 150,000 now. A large number of those who remain are now displaced.