WORLDPOST
08/09/2014 12:25 pm ET | Updated Oct 09, 2014

Thousands Of Iraqi Yazidis Flee To Syria After Kurds Open Safe Passage

Kurdish forces rescued 5,000 Yazidis who were stranded on Sinjar Mountain in Northwestern Iraq and had been in danger of dying of thirst, Al Jazeera reports.

"I can confirm that we succeeded in reaching the mountains and opening a road for the refugees," said Halgord Hikmet, a spokesman for Kurdish security forces, according to Al Jazeera.

More from AP:

Thousands of members of a religious minority group under attack by Islamic extremists have fled across the border from Iraq to seek refuge with the Kurds of northeastern Syria, said two Kurdish officials and an activist on Saturday.

Ekrem Hasso and Juan Mohammad told The Associated Press that the Yazidis fled after Kurdish fighters were able to open a safe passage into Syria following clashes with the Islamic State group.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also said thousands of people have fled from Iraq into Syria but had no exact number.

The U.S. has launched airdrops to aid thousands of Yazidis who have been trapped on a mountaintop near the Syria border for days by the militants.

The extremists have captured hundreds of Yazidi women, according to an Iraqi official, while thousands of other civilians have fled in fear as the militants seized a string of northern Iraqi towns and villages in recent days.

The Yazidis are a Kurdish speaking minority practicing an ancient pre-Islamic religion with links to Zoroastrianism.

Mohammed, a spokesman for the local administration in the Syrian city of Qamishli, said there are currently about 7,000 people in Norouz Camp, which has about 300 tents, as well as thousands others who have arrived in other parts of the region.

"We are doing all we can to bring them to Rojava," Mohammed said giving the name used by Kurds to refer to a predominantly Kurdish region in northeastern Syria. "People are dying on the way."

He added that some women have lost their children on the way because of exhaustion and fear. Talking about Yazidis who were able to make it into Syria he said they are arriving "in miserable conditions. They are barefoot, tired and left everything behind."

"If we don't help those people they will be subjected to genocide," said Mohammed referring to the people who are still in Iraq.

Mohammed said more than 20,000 Yazidis are on their way to Syria through the safe route but they and Kurdish fighters are coming under attack by Islamic State group fighters. He said that so far nine Kurdish fighters have been killed since Friday between Iraq and Syria while protecting the fleeing Yazidis.

Hasso, an official at administration of the Syrian Kurdish region known as Jazeera, said Kurdish fighters with the People's Protection Units were able to open the safe route Thursday night after intense clashes with the Islamic State that left dozens dead or wounded. He said the majority of Iraqis arriving are Yazidis in addition to a smaller numbers of Christians.

The units are dominated by members of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, Syria's most powerful Kurdish group, affiliated with the Turkish Kurdish movement PKK, which long fought for autonomy in southeastern Turkey.

Members of the units have been fighting against jihadis in northern Syria since last year and have been able to force them out of predominantly Kurdish areas. The oil-rich northeastern Syrian province of Hassakeh has its own Christians and Yazidis populations.

"Our (local) government is on alert and we call upon international relief agencies to come here and help us. We need tents, blankets and food," said Hasso by telephone from the Norouz camp. He added that three other camps are also receiving Iraqis who are fleeing.

"The conditions are catastrophic here and our capabilities are very modest," Hasso said adding that some Syrians have received Iraqis in their homes while others are donating food and clothes.

The Yazidis practice an ancient religion that the Sunni Muslim radicals consider heretical. The Islamic state views Yazidis and Shiite Muslims as infidels, and has demanded Christians either convert to Islam or pay a special tax.

--Bassem Mroue

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08/16/2014 6:17 PM EDT

US Military: Fighters, Drone Aircraft Strike Militants In N Iraq

08/16/2014 6:07 PM EDT

Kurdish Officials Say 300 Killed In Friday 'Massacre'

Correspondent for Britain's The Sunday Times Hala Jaber reports that Kurdish and Yazidi officials say the death toll from the Islamic State's attack on the Iraq village of Kocho on Friday is higher than previously estimated. A Kurdish official initially said around 80 people lost their lives.

08/16/2014 5:57 PM EDT

British PM: Islamic State Militants Could Target UK

08/16/2014 4:49 PM EDT

NYT Correspondent Recounts Iraq Helicopter Crash

New York Times correspondent Alissa J. Rubin tells her story inside the Iraqi helicopter that crashed on the Sinjar mountains on Tuesday while attempting to rescue stranded Yazidis.

Rubin was wounded in the crash and dictated the article from her hospital bed in Istanbul, the newspaper notes.

Read her moving account on The New York Times here.

08/16/2014 2:23 PM EDT

Iraq Refugees Learn Of Yazidi Massacre

The BBC's Yalda Hakim reports from a refugee camp in Dohuk on how the Yazidi community learned of an alleged massacre by Islamic State militants in Iraq.

Watch the BBC report here.

08/16/2014 1:03 PM EDT

U.S. Provides Air Support To Kurdish Offensive

Kurdish forces, supported by U.S. warplanes, are battling to recaptured Iraq's largest dam from Islamic State militants, Agence France Presse reports.

More from AFP:

Kurdish forces attacked the Islamic State fighters who wrested the Mosul dam from them a week earlier, a general told AFP.

"Kurdish peshmerga, with US air support, have seized control of the eastern side of the dam" complex, Major General Abdelrahman Korini told AFP, saying several jihadists had been killed.

08/16/2014 12:54 PM EDT

The Kurdish Iraqi leader has appealed to Germany for weapons to battle the advancing Islamic State, Reuters reports.

From Reuters:

Germany has shied away from direct involvement in military conflicts for much of the post-war era and a survey conducted for Bild am Sonntag newspaper indicated that almost three quarters of Germans were against shipping weapons to the Kurds.

But Germany's defense minister has said the government was looking into the possibility of delivering military hardware.

Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, said the Kurds needed more than the humanitarian aid that Germany began sending on Friday to support people forced to flee their homes by the Sunni militant group's advance.

"We also expect Germany to deliver weapons and ammunition to our army so that we can fight back against the IS terrorists," Barzani told German magazine Focus. He said they needed German training and what they lacked most were anti-tank weapons.

08/16/2014 11:38 AM EDT

U.S.-Backed Kurds Attempt To Recapture Mosul Dam

08/16/2014 11:14 AM EDT

Airstrikes Target Islamic State After Reports Of Yazidi Massacre

The Associated Press reports:

Airstrikes pounded the area around Iraq's largest dam on Saturday in an effort to drive out militants who captured it earlier this month, as reports emerged of the massacre of some 80 members of the Yazidi religious minority by Islamic extremists.

Residents living near the Mosul Dam told The Associated Press that the area was being targeted by airstrikes, but it was not immediately clear whether the attacks were being carried out by Iraq's air force or the U.S., which last week launched an air campaign aimed at halting the advance of the Islamic State group across the country's north.

The extremist group seized the dam on the Tigris River on Aug. 7. Residents near the dam say the airstrikes killed militants, but that could not immediately be confirmed. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity out of fears for their safety.

08/15/2014 6:31 PM EDT

U.S. May Speed Up Aid To Iraq Despite Billions Already Spent

The United States may accelerate economic and military aid to Iraq now Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stood down, Reuters reports.

U.S. officials first want assurances that the Iraqi government has moved away from the sectarian policies of al-Maliki's administration, according to the news agency.

Read the full story here.