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Political Tensions Threaten Iraq’s Already Dwindling Security

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 11 2014 (IPS) - Threatened with slaughter if they descend what is now known as the “Mountain of Death” and at risk of dying of dehydration if they stay, tens of thousands of Yezidis have been driven to peril by the Islamic State (also known as ISIL).

About 200 000 people have been displaced in the last nine days, adding to the 650 000 who had to leave their homes since June 9, when ISIL seized Mosul, a city in northern Iraq. ISIL has since ravaged swiftly across the country, leaving a trail of horror and fear in their wake.

An estimated 1.5 million, including Syrians taking refuge in Iraq, are currently in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Aid to Mount Sinjar has arrived in the form of airdrops of food and water, delivered by the United States, Britain and France.

However, “the situation of people still on the mountain are absolutely dire,” according to Kieran Dwyer, spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“The people trapped on the mountains are absolutely exposed to the heat and it is searing hot here,” said Dwyer, speaking from Iraq.

“People coming off the mountain every single day are in much worse condition than the day before.”

People are trapped in multiple locations on the rough, barren expanse of rock. The south of Mount Sinjar exposes those trapped to armed militants, who are now making religious minorities choose between their lives and their faith.

Alarming reports from inside Iraq however, have revealed that militants have been conducting indiscriminate executions and barbaric torture of all those vulnerable, including women and children.

Up to 500 women are being held in a prison in Mosul after being abducted by armed groups. Of the 200 000 displaced, half are children under the age of 15. 56 children have died since the crisis broke out last week. This excludes the number of those still trapped on Mount Sinjar.

On the north side near the Syrian border, Kurdish and other security forces have assisted some thousands in escaping, although safety is not guaranteed once they get down.

A seven-hour walk greets them at the start of their journey to relative safety. After surviving harsh conditions on higher ground, they cannot be certain of not being confronted by violence down below.

About 16 schools have been set up in the town of Dohuk and serve as emergency shelters for those displaced. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has four communal kitchens in place, providing around 1.6 million meals in the last week alone.

Although humanitarian coordination from local, regional and international authorities is stepping up, security measures are not yet underway, posing a constant challenge to adequate provision of emergency assistance.

“We need to stress that security is critical for humanitarian access. Security is key for us to deliver life-saving support,” said Dwyer.

Amidst this instability, Iraqi President Fuad Masum has named Haider al-Abadi as the new prime minister, replacing Nuri al-Maliki. Maliki has long been seen by the United States as a contributor to sectarian and ethnic discord in the country.

Although U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has commended Masum for adherence to the Iraqi constitution in his nomination of al-Abadi, he is concerned that heightened political tensions paired with the security threat of ISIL could plunge Iraq into an unprecedented crisis.

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