World / Middle East

Tens of thousands forced from homes in northwest Iraq

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-08-08 11:13

Tens of thousands forced from homes in northwest Iraq 

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UNITED NATIONS -- The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that tens of thousands of people have been forced from their homes and are in urgent need of life-saving assistance due to the violence in Sinjar in northwest Iraq, a UN spokesman said Thursday.

"While the situation remains fluid and numbers cannot be independently verified, thousands of families, many of them women, children and the elderly, are now trapped on Mount Sinjar," Farhan Haq, the deputy UN spokesman, said at a daily news briefing here. "Iraqi authorities estimate that there are some 50,000 people there."

"An estimated 200,000 people have reportedly made their way to Dohuk Governorate in the Kurdish region or to disputed border areas inside Ninewa Province," he said.

The Islamic State Sunni insurgent group has taken control of two large towns and at least three more areas in Iraq's northern province of Ninewa and at the edge of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, reports said on Thursday.

Islamic State militants stormed late on Wednesday night the major towns of Talkif and Qaraqoush, as well as the small towns of Bartella, Bashiqa and al-Guier in east and northeast of Ninewa's provincial capital city of Mosul, the reports said.

"UN agencies and partners are providing displaced people with emergency assistance including food, water, health care and basic household items," he said.

The situation in Iraq is being discussed on Thursday afternoon by the UN Security Council behind closed doors.

The UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has expressed alarm at recent reports of violation of academic freedoms in various universities in Iraq, including the universities of Mosul, Tikrit, Anbar and Diyala.

"There have been reports that professors, researchers and students have come under increasing pressure, especially in the fields of law, religious sciences and education," Haq said. " UNESCO adds that the principle of co-education is also being jeopardized."

The battlefields of Talkif, Qaraqoush, Sinjar are part of disputed areas which are ethnically mixed with Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens and others. The Kurds have demanded expansion of their autonomous region in northern Iraq to include the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and other areas in the Iraqi provinces of Nineveh, Salahudin and Diyala, but their move is fiercely opposed by the central government in Baghdad.

Early in June, the Peshmerga took control of the disputed areas, including the northern city of Kirkuk after the Iraqi security forces abandoned their bases following the Islamic State's June 10 blitzkrieg across Iraq in which the al-Qaida offshoot and other Sunni militant groups seized large swathes of territories in predominantly Sunni provinces.

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