20,000 Yazidis flee to safety
West increases efforts to save the thousands still trapped; Iraq says some buried alive
Thousands of displaced Iraqis who had been besieged on a mountain by jihadists escaped to safety yesterday while Western powers ramped up efforts to save those still stranded with air drops.
Three days after US President Barack Obama ordered warplanes back into the skies over Iraq to avert what he said could be an impending genocide, France and Britain joined the humanitarian response.
US jets conducted a new round of air strikes while congressional Republicans criticised Obama's intervention as ineffective and called for more aggressive military steps.
Republican Peter King of New York criticised Obama for insisting he would not send ground troops to combat Islamic State forces in Iraq, adding that the United States had been too timid. Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain also said Obama was not going far enough.
An attack by extremist Islamic State militants on the Sinjar region a week ago sent thousands - many of them from the Yazidi minority - scurrying into a nearby mountain.
Yazidi lawmaker Vian Dakhil had warned on Saturday that those stranded on Mount Sinjar in searing summer heat with little food and water would not survive much longer.
Yesterday, she and other officials said at least 20,000 had managed to flee the siege, with the help of Kurdish troops, and cross into northern Iraq's Kurdistan region via Syria.
"Twenty-thousand to 30,000 have managed to flee Mount Sinjar but there are still thousands on the mountain," she said. "The passage isn't 100 per cent safe. There is still a risk."
Iraq's human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said Islamic State militants had killed hundreds of Yazidis, burying some alive and taking women as slaves.
"We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic State have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar," he said.
"Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar."
No independent confirmation of his claims was available.
Unicef estimated about 50,000 had fled into the mountain chain. For days, there was no escape as extremists blocked the roads.
"We thought we would die in the mountains, but it was better than them taking our women," said Abu Saado, referring to widespread fears that Yazidi women would be raped or used as slaves.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters