Iraqi town of Sinjar west of Mosul, take refuge at Dohuk province,
President Obama is considering airstrikes or airdrops of food and medicine to address a humanitarian crisis among as many as 40,000 religious minorities in Iraq who have been dying of heat and thirst on a mountaintop after death threats from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, administration officials said on Thursday.Tens of thousands of the Yazidi minority, an ethnically Kurdish group whose beliefs are rooted in Zoroastrianism but mixed with Muslim and Christian beliefs as well, are hiding in caves in a mountain near the town of Sinjar on the Syrian border. Although the Iraq military has airdropped food and other supplies in the area, the Yazidi are reportedly starving, dying of thirst and facing a massacre if ISIS fighters take over the area. ISIS, made up mostly of Sunni extremists, views the Yazidi as devil worshippers.
The president, in meetings with his national security team at the White House on Thursday morning, has been weighing a series of options ranging from dropping humanitarian supplies on Mount Sinjar to military strikes on the fighters from ISIS now at the base of the mountain, a senior administration official said.
Already, reports from Yazidi put the death toll of children from heat and dehydration at 40.
The Yazidi aren't the only minority that has been caught up in an ISIS offensive against the autonomous Kurds in the region, but they are the worst off. Fighting has been going on in the area since June. ISIS has reportedly executed Yazidi men who refuse to convert to Islam. Yazidi women are said to have been forced to become jihadi brides.
Even though ISIS reportedly has only about 10,000 fighters, their ferocity has driven units of the Iraqi army to flee in much of the north of the country, sometimes after minimal or no resistance. This despite U.S. expenditures of tens of billions of dollars in equipment and training for the Iraq military. The situation in the area of the fighting is made worse because of the split between the central Baghdad government and the Kurds:
More recently Baghdad has even barred cargo flights that deliver much-needed weapons and ammunition to Kurdish peshmerga forces engaged in running battles with ISIL militants across a nearly 650-mile border. Kurdish officials are now pleading for the U.S. to provide direct military assistance. According to a senior Kurdish official, the Kurds will soon switch to the U.S. dollar as their official currency to make a clean break from the Iraqi dinar and the Baghdad government, and they plan to hold a referendum on independence within the next 30 days.
As the final guarantor of Iraqi sovereignty, Iraqi Security Forces have in some cases been co-opted by Shiite militias and also infiltrated by Sunni extremist informants tied to ISIL [ISIS], according to a classified assessment of the ISF conducted by U.S. Special Operations Forces on the ground. Their assessment, which recently leaked to the New York Times and is still being studied at U.S. Central Command and the Pentagon, concluded that only half of Iraqi forces are operationally viable even with U.S. assistance. That assessment was bolstered a few weeks ago when Iraqi army units launched a counteroffensive to retake the city of Tikrit, and were repulsed by ISIL militants.