THE continuing struggle to provide food and shelter for the
thousands of Christians and members of other minority communities
sheltering in the Kurdish-administered region of Iraq is taking
place against the background of increasing Sunni-Shia tension in
Baghdad and other cities. This in turn is hindering efforts to form
a new inclusive government to tackle the challenges posed by the
Islamic State (IS) jihadists, who control a large area of the
Last Friday, about 70 Sunnis were shot dead at a mosque near
Baquba, 70 miles north-east of the capital. The assumption was that
the attackers belonged to a Shia militia. On Monday and Tuesday,
dozens of people were killed and wounded in attacks on Shia targets
in the capital and in towns just to the south of it. In one
incident, nine worshippers in a mosque were killed.
Two representatives of the Sunni community, the recently elected
Speaker of Parliament, Salim al-Jabouri, and the Deputy Prime
Minister, Saleh al-Mutlak, announced at the weekend the suspension
of their involvement in talks to establish a new government, in
protest at the Baquba mosque killings. There is widespread
agreement in Iraq that the creation of a cabinet that represents
the interests of the Sunni community is essential, if Sunnis are to
be persuaded to turn against IS. The Sunnis accused the previous
Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, of discriminating against them.
Any concerted military operation against IS will have to await
the formation of a new government. But the more pressing concern is
providing care for the hundreds of thousands of displaced
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, who chairs the British
charity the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, has been
meeting medical teams treating some of those who have fled the
areas controlled by IS, and who are now forced to live in camps in
the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
During a visit to Khazar, close to the Kurdish-IS front line,
Lady Nicholson met a family who had just escaped from an IS area.
All their possessions had been stolen. She said that the
grandfather had told her that "his lifetime's work building a farm
with a 500-strong herd of sheep had been destroyed in a few
minutes. The IS took everything. They even snatched the gold cross
from around his daughter-in-law's neck. What this poor family has
been through is something I am hearing repeated constantly.
Terrible crimes against humanity are being committed here over and
over again. . . We are in desperate need of more funds" (www.amarfoundation.org).
A Christian relief organisation, Medair, says that it is sending
emergency-response teams to Iraq to meet the urgent needs of the
displaced. Medair will distribute high-energy food rations and
other supplies. "The humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq is
complex and fluid," the international director of Medair, Mark
Screeton, said. "But you cannot fail to see the chaos and
Another aspect of the Iraq crisis is how to respond to both IS
and the upheavals that it has caused. The Chaldean Patriarch of
Babylon and Archbishop of Baghdad, the Most Revd Louis Raphael
Sako, in a statement on Sunday, said that the international
community, "principally the United States and European Union, due
to their moral and historic responsibility towards Iraq, cannot be
indifferent. While acknowledging all that is being done to solve
this crisis, it seems that the decisions and actions undertaken
until now have made no real change in the course of events, and the
fate of these affected people is still at stake, as if these people
are not part of the human race."
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, has called on the Government
to show leadership internationally and domestically in support of
those suffering in Iraq. He said that he wrote to the Prime
Minister about this three weeks ago, but has so far not received a
Dr Sentamu agrees that the UK has a responsibility to do more to
help in Iraq. He wrote on his website on Tuesday that, as a
Security Council member, Britain should "support calls from the
United Nations' own committees for the creation of a 'safe zone' in
Iraq, enforced by UN peacekeepers, to protect the country's
minorities". The time had come for the Government "to show
leadership in offering asylum to those at risk of persecution".
Lord Carey of Clifton, a former Archbishop of Canterbury,
writing in the Mail On Sunday, said that he believed that
British Muslims who travelled abroad to "commit violent jihad"
terrorist acts should be stripped of their passports.
The list of atrocities committed by IS is growing fast. The UN
has said that close to 670 prisoners in Mosul were summarily
massacred. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay,
spoke of "grave, horrific human-rights violations" that were being
committed daily. The IS was "systematically targeting men, women,
and children based on their ethnic, religious, or sectarian
Another atrocity was the beheading of the American journalist
James Foley, which was filmed and distributed on the internet. At a
memorial mass on Sunday, in his family's Roman Catholic parish
church in New Hampshire, a message sent on behalf of Pope Francis
to the Bishop of Rockville Centre was read out. The Pope also spoke
privately by phone to Mr Foley's parents.