IRAQI KURDISTAN: Iraqis cross checkpoint near Erbil, fleeing Mosul because of ISIS threats

26 July 2014
IRAQI KURDISTAN: Iraqis cross checkpoint near Erbil, fleeing Mosul because of ISIS threats

By Peggy Faw Gish

Children and teenagers sat in the back of pick-up trucks, amidst bundles of clothing and household items.  Parents holding babies looked worried and tired.  Other families sat on blankets in temporary shelters out of the hot sun, waiting for the authorities to process their papers or for the person sponsoring them to meet them at the checkpoint and escort them into the area of Iraq controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).  They had all fled their homes because of ISIS’ takeover of their communities.

We were at the first checkpoint for those seeking to enter the Erbil Governorates.  Though only about twenty km east of ISIS-controlled territory, the people coming through were now in a relatively safe area protected by the Peshmerga (Kurdish soldiers).

"It is dangerous in Mosul. The Iraqi government is randomly bombing civilian areas and civilians are killed or injured. We civilians are the victims—in the middle between the Iraqi government and ISIS fighters," one of the men fleeing Mosul told us.  "One of the main problems we have there is that we have little services.  The hospitals have little medicines or anesthesia for doing surgeries. The only benefit of having ISIS there is that there are no more checkpoints inside the city. ISIS took down all the barriers separating neighborhoods."

A student from Mosul, traveling to Erbil for his final national examinations told us, "ISIS is present where I live, but is not harming the people.  There is no fighting going on."  He planned to return to Mosul the next day.  

On Friday 19 July, ISIS gave Christians in Mosul an ultimatum: by noon Saturday they must convert to Islam, pay a fine of about $470 per person, or face "death by the sword."  They were to leave with only the clothes they were wearing.  CNN reported that fifty-two Christian families left Mosul early Saturday morning and headed either for nearby Christian villages, or the KRG governorates of Duhok or Erbil.  Christian leaders we contacted told us that the Bishop of the Mosul’s Catholic churches and the KRG churches are sponsoring these families.

Not as prominent in the news, however, was that Isis was threatening other minority religious groups in Mosul, such as the Shabak, Yezidis, and Turkmen, and they were also coming into the KRG areas.  One of the Peshmerga crossing guards reminded me of their persecution today when he told us that the busloads of people coming through the checkpoint were mostly Shia Muslim Turkmen from Tal Afar.  From here, he told us, they would travel to Suleimani, then to Baghdad and Shia areas in southern Iraq. 

I can only imagine the heartbreak and fear each new wave of people must feel as they are wrenched from their homes, leaving their hopes and dreams, and what little stability they had behind.  Yet, in the midst of this suffering, Iraqis are reaching out to help each other.  I watched members of a family lovingly assist their elderly grandfather hobble to their car once they were ready to leave.  Checkpoint crossing guards asked the students, since they are young and healthy, to wait for families with women and children to cross.  And people in other parts of the country, also knowing the pain of war, are helping the refugees to resettle.