Too Little, Too Late, Too Many: More Than 12,000 Iraqis Killed in First Nine Months of 2014

The problem is bigger than the Islamic State: Many minority communities are now in danger of extinction, says a group which tracks minorities worldwide.

Ilene Prusher
Ilene Prusher
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Iraqi Yazidi women who fled the violence in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, take shelter in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region. August 5, 2014.
Iraqi Yazidi women who fled the violence in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, take shelter in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region. August 5, 2014.Credit: AFP
Ilene Prusher
Ilene Prusher

It's not just that things seem to be getting more violent in Iraq. They are, and it’s not all about ISIS, or the Islamic State, and their brutal land grabs.

In the first nine months of 2014, over 12,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq, and religious and ethnic minorities have been among the primary targets, according to Minority Rights Group International, a London-based group which tracks disadvantaged minorities and indigenous peoples around the world.

In the first comprehensive report on religious and ethnic minorities published since the advance of the Islamic State, in a study released Thursday entitled “From Crisis to Catastrophe: the situation of minorities in Iraq,” the group says that minorities in areas occupied by the Islamic State “have been subject to summary executions, forced conversions, kidnappings, torture, sexual violence and destruction of property.” At least half a million people in Ninewa province, which includes the cities of Mosul and Tel Afar, “have been forced to flee their homes and lands in Ninewa with little more than the clothes on their backs,” the group said.

In addition to the report’s findings, which seem the clearest answer yet to the question to whether the U.S. and other Western powers waited too long before intervening in Iraq's violent disintegration, Minority Rights Group International suggested that the issue be referred to the International Criminal Court. It also called on the international community to increase the provision of emergency relief, including food, water, tents, medical supplies and other essentials in order to help displaced families in Iraq.

Strikingly, the report indicates that the problem is not just the Islamic State, and did not begin with its widely covered capture of the city of Mosul in June, according to Mark Lattimer, the group’s executive director.

“I think ISIS gets all the attention for obvious and terrible reasons, but it isn’t just ISIS perpetrating massacres. There are other extremist forces in the north, and in other parts of Iraq it’s also Shia militias,” Lattimer told Haaretz.

“The news is devastating, but no one is surprised by these numbers,” he explained. “What is surprising is how much killing went on long before the June advance. There were large-scale massacres last year and early parts of this year, before the advance on Mosul. That's because ISIS was already there, and it controlled large parts of Mosul in practice even before the takeover.”

The number 12,000, he said, is “a conservative figure” arrived at by collecting statistics from a variety of sources. The UN figure, he notes, was 8,500 by the end of August, and that was also a conservative estimate. That means just in the month of September, even with this crisis topping world headlines and competing only with Ebola for the world’s attention, more than 3,500 civilians were killed in Iraq. Among the highest proportion of those killed are Iraqi minorities including Chaldo-Assyrians, Armenian Christians, Turkmen, Yazidis, Kaka’i, Shabak, Sabean-Mandaeans, Baha’i, Faili Kurds, Black Iraqis and Roma, the group says.

“Many minority communities have been reduced in size by emigration and killing to the point that they are now in danger of extinction,” said Lattimer, also the editor of the report, which was to be launched at the European Parliament on Thursday morning (12:00 P.M. in Israel).

The report puts a gruesome and well-documented toll on a worsening crisis that should be deeply troubling across the globe. But it is particularly relevant in Washington, where the Obama administration has pursued a policy of limited air strikes against the Islamic State but has already acknowledged the limits of this remote aerial warfare on the Islamic State’s heavy machinery: It may hurt in some places, but it isn’t necessarily going to let Kurdish or Iraqi government forces defeat the Islamic State, nor stop the bloodshed and ethnic cleansing on the ground.

Other than the Islamic State, the Minority Rights Group also made pointed recommendations to the Iraqi government as well as the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which has sometime contributed to the problem with checkpoints that keep out fleeing civilians, particular non-Kurds. The KRG, the Minority Rights Group said, should “harmonize entry procedures at checkpoints to allow displaced persons fleeing violence to enter the KRG without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion and continue to provide humanitarian support for internally displaced persons seeking refuge inside the KRG.”

While the startling figures mount, the Islamic State continues its push seemingly undeterred. Islamic state militants are still trying to seize Kobani in Syria near the Turkish border, and on Wednesday were reported by news agencies to be moving closer to Amriyat al-Fallujah, only about only 35 kilometers (20 miles) away from Baghdad.

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