Following U.S. airstrikes in Iraq’s Sinjar area Saturday, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who had been trapped on a mountain by Islamic State militants have managed to flee, reports say.
Some 20,000 Iraqis -- mostly members of the Yazidi minority -- escaped to Syria and were then escorted by Kurdish forces back to northern Iraq, the Guardian reported. The area is home to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. One Kurdish official told AFP the refugees were mostly women and children who had been trapped on Mount Sinjar in the summer heat with scant food or water. Thousands more are said to be still on the mountain, and some children and elderly citizens have already died.
Those who managed to flee had been trapped on the mountain for more than a week after the Sinjar region was overrun by militants. The escape coincided with U.S. air raids authorized Friday by President Barack Obama, who warned strikes could continue “for some time.”
An estimated 50,000 people were believed to have been trapped on Mount Sinjar, the United Nations said while 200,000 others are thought to have made their way to Dahuk in Iraqi Kurdistan. Meanwhile, Sunni militants have surrounded some 300 Yazidi families, telling them they must convert to Islam or be killed, Reuters reported Saturday.
Kurdish forces from Turkey, Syria and Iraq are teaming up to rescue those still trapped at the mountain. Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi lawmaker, told AFP Saturday many more will die if decisive action is not taken in the next 48 hours.
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Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani Sunday asked the international community for weapons to aid the fight, Reuters reported. "We are not fighting a terrorist organization, we are fighting a terrorist state," Barzani told a joint press conference with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.