Iraq’s Religious, Ethnic Minorities on Verge of Disappearing: Report

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People from the minority Yazidi group fleeing forces loyal to ISIS in Sinjar town walk toward the Syrian border near the town of Elierbeh in August 2014. Rodi Said/Reuters

After more than a decade of war in Iraq, the country's religious and ethnic minority groups are on the verge of disappearing, according to a new report.

The report documents how several thousand people belonging to minority communities in Iraq have been abducted, maimed or murdered since June 2014, when the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group took control of Mosul, Iraq.

Among them are unknown numbers of women and girls who have been raped or forced into marriage or sexual enslavement by ISIS fighters. Efforts to retake Mosul later this year could result in a total of a million people being displaced, warns the report published on Monday by Minority Rights Group International, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, Institute for International Law and Human Rights, and No Peace Without Justice.

The report is the latest in a string of documents examining the disappearance of minorities in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003. Multiple sides in the conflict—ISIS, Iraqi Security Forces, Popular Mobilization Units and Kurdish Peshmerga—have committed war crimes, the report claims, including the use of chemical weapons, rape, torture and the recruitment of children. Earlier this month, U.N. investigators said ISIS is guilty of carrying out genocide against the Yezidi people.

“Thirteen years of war have had devastating long-term consequences for Iraqi society,” Mark Lattimer, executive director of Minority Rights Group International, said in a statement. “The impact on minorities has been catastrophic. Saddam was terrible; the situation since is worse. Tens of thousands of religious and ethnic minorities have been killed and millions have fled for their lives.”

Some of Iraq’s minority groups have seen their numbers fall dramatically over the past 13 years. The country’s Christian population now stands at less than 250,000, down from 1.4 million in 2003. Minority communities such as the Yezidi—whose 2005 population of 700,000 has fallen to 500,000—and the Kaka’i have been forced from their traditional lands, and Shi’a Turkmen and Shabak peoples have been driven to the country’s southern areas.

Since June 2014, 3.3 million people in Iraq have been internally displaced, about a third of whom are children, according to the report. People from Iraq make up 15 percent of refugees who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea for Europe this year, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

The report was published one day after a suicide car bomb attack in Baghdad that killed more than 200 people. Also, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Tuesday urged the release of hundreds of men and boys reportedly abducted by a militia group after the recapture of the city of Fallujah last month.

“Iraq’s minority communities are feeling increasingly disillusioned and disappointed not only with the Government of Iraq and Kurdistan Regional Government, but also with the U.N.,” said Johanna Green of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. “This situation of protracted displacement is causing further tensions to an already dire situation, which highlights the urgent need for a long-term focus that goes beyond immediate security and relief.”