A large portion of Iraq’s minorities are on the verge of disappearance after 13 years of war, campaigners warned on Monday.
“The impact on minorities has been catastrophic. Saddam was terrible; the situation since is worse. Tens of thousands of minorities have been killed and millions have fled for their lives,” said Mark Lattimer, head of Minority Rights Group (MRG).
Iraq’s Christian population, which before 2003 numbered as many as 1.4 million, is now under 250,000, according to a report by MRG and other rights organizations.
The report demands an end to impunity for crimes against minorities. It says planning should begin immediately for a post-ISIS era to enable them to return to their homelands.
Moreover, it also calls for the protection of mass graves in areas captured from ISIS and the deployment of forensic teams to investigate possible war crimes.
Civil conflicts and sectarian tensions have engulfed the country since 2003 when a U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein. In 2014 ISIS militants self-declared a caliphate after capturing swathes of Iraqi and Syrian lands.
Minorities including the Yazidi, Turkmen, Shabak, Christians and Kaka’i have been disproportionately affected by the recent violence, the report said.
Tens of thousands have been murdered, maimed or abducted and many women and girls forced into marriage or sexual enslavement.
“One cannot say anything positive about Saddam – he was a genocidal dictator, but for many minorities the situation is now much worse,” said co-author Lattimer.
The Yazidis hit the headlines in mid-2014 when ISIS militants attacked most of their concentrated population in northwest Iraq, killing, capturing and enslaving thousands.
The terrorist group has shown particular cruelty to the Yazidis, whom they regard as infidels and devil-worshippers.
Most Yazidis, along with another minority called the Kaka’i, have been forced from their traditional lands.
According to the MRG report, “No Way Home: Iraq’s Minorities on the Verge of Disappearance,” an estimated 3.4 million people are now uprooted inside Iraq.
And as many as one in five displaced Iraqis interviewed by researchers felt they had no choice but to flee the country because of the lack of basic services and security.
The authors warned that displacement could further intensify with an assault to retake Mosul from ISIS- potentially uprooting another 1 million people and creating hundreds of thousands more refugees.