UN says Iraq humanitarian crisis ‘at highest level’ in wake of Islamic State onslaught

UN’s declaration of a ‘Level 3 Emergency’ will trigger additional goods, funds and assets to respond to the needs of the displaced

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 6:43pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 August, 2014, 10:37pm

The United Nations has announced its highest level of emergency for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq in the wake of the onslaught by Islamic militants who have overrun much of the country’s north and west and driven out hundreds of thousands from their homes.

The Security Council also said on Thursday it was backing a newly nominated premier-designate in the hope that he can swiftly form an “inclusive government” that could counter the insurgent threat, which has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since the US troop withdrawal in 2011.

Attacks by the Islamic State group and its Sunni militant allies this summer have captured large swaths of land in northern and western Iraq, displaced members of the minority Christian and Yazidi religious communities and threatened Iraqi Kurds in the Kurdish autonomous region in the north.

The UN’s declaration of a “Level 3 Emergency” will trigger additional goods, funds and assets to respond to the needs of the displaced, said UN special representative Nickolay Mladenov, who pointed to the “scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe.”

Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled the Islamic State group’s advance to take refuge in the remote desert Sinjar mountain range.

The US and Iraqi military have dropped food and water supplies, and in recent days Kurds from neighbouring Syria battled to open a corridor to the mountain, allowing some 45,000 to escape.

The UN said it would provide increased support to those who have escaped Sinjar and to 400,000 other Iraqis who have fled since June to the Kurdish province of Dahuk. Others have fled to other parts of the Kurdish region or further south.

A total of 1.5 million have been displaced by the fighting since the insurgents captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, in June and quickly swept over other parts of the country.

The United States has been carrying out airstrikes in recent days against Islamic State fighters, helping fend back their advance on Kurdish regions.

The US said on Thursday its assessment team found “far fewer” Yazidi refugees marooned on a northern Iraqi mountain than expected, making an evacuation mission less likely, after air strikes pummelled besieging Islamic militants.

The UN refugee agency had said tens of thousands of civilians, many of them Yazidis, were trapped on Mount Sinjar by jihadists from the Islamic State (IS) militant group, which has overrun swathes of Iraq and Syria.

But the Pentagon said that – based on a first-hand assessment by a small party of US military personnel – the plight of those on the mountain was better than feared, and an evacuation mission is therefore “far less likely”.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday said an international plan was "under way" to rescue civilians trapped by Islamic State fighters in the Sinjar mountain range.

Cameron declined to give details of the operation but said Britain would play a role, just as it had worked alongside the United States in conducting humanitarian aid drops to thousands of Yazidis and other minorities who have fled to Mount Sinjar.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s central government in Baghdad has been mired in political turmoil, after the president nominated a Shiite politician, Haider al-Abadi, to form the next government, putting him on track to replace embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Al-Maliki on Wednesday said he will not relinquish power until a federal court rules on what he called a “constitutional violation” by President Fouad Massoum. Al-Maliki insists he should have a third term in office but he is appearing increasingly isolated as the international community lines up behind al-Abadi, who has 30 days to come up with a proposal for a cabinet.

The UN Security Council urged al-Abadi to work swiftly to form “an inclusive government that represents all segments of the Iraqi population and that contributes to finding a viable and sustainable solution to the country’s current challenges.”


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