(CNSNews.com) – The foreign minister of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region appealed Wednesday for the U.S. and others to provide military and humanitarian help in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL). The jihadists’ violent campaign across northern Iraq is placing the lives of tens of thousands of people, many of them children, in grave jeopardy.
“We have received expressions of appreciation and gratitude from the international community as we provide a safe haven for refugees and IDPs [internally-displaced persons] and combat a ruthless terrorist organization,” Falah Mustafa told foreign diplomats and international organization representatives in Irbil.
“It is now time for the international community to step forward, urgently, and provide the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] with humanitarian assistance and military support – particularly air support,” he said.
“Fighting ISIS is not only the responsibility of the Kurdistan Region,” Mustafa said. “Terrorism is an international threat, and therefore the international community has a responsibility to support the KRG as it combats ISIS.”
Mustafa made a similar appeal in an interview with CNN, calling for military help from the U.S. and NATO, and saying he believed that “the United States has a moral responsibility to support us, because this is a fight against terrorism, and we have proven to be pro-democracy, pro-West, and pro-secularism.”
Between 35,000 and 50,000 people – according to the U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA – mostly from the Yazidi religious minority, are stranded without shelter or water on a mountain west of Mosul, after fleeing their homes in the Sinjar district as ISIS forces captured the area at the weekend.
The U.N. Children’s Fund says they include some 25,000 children, and that dozens have already died.
Rudaw, a Kurdish media network, reported Wednesday that at least 60 people had died so far, saying that on Mount Sinjar there were “dead bodies lying everywhere among the rocks.”
At the meeting in Irbil Mustafa urged the international community to provide urgent support to help the stranded people, including humanitarian aid and air transportation to deliver it.
Also briefing the diplomats – who included representatives from the U.S., Russia, Japan and European and Middle Eastern countries – a spokesman for the government department responsible for the Kurdish “peshmerga” forces, Jabar Yawar, underlined the need for support.
In the past, he said, peshmerga forces had protected the 650 mile-long border between the autonomous region and the rest of Iraq together with 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and – before the U.S. withdrawal in Dec. 2011 – 20,000 American soldiers.
Now, however, the Kurdish fighters with their limited resources were trying to do it alone, in the face of the ISIS advance, Yawar said.
Kurdish President Massoud Barzani earlier this week ordered more than 10,000 Kurdish fighters to take up the fight against ISIS in the Sinjar district.
In the CNN interview, Mustafa said that apart from limited help in the last couple of days from the Iraqi military, the Kurdish forces were standing alone against ISIS in the area.
“This is something that is way beyond the capacity of the Iraqi air forces,” he said. “We need the United States and NATO to interfere because we are fighting on behalf of all those who are against terrorism.”
Mustafa pointed out that ISIS’ ranks include some Europeans and Americans, and said there was a “shared responsibility” to fight back.
An appeal for the U.S. and others to help civilians displaced by the ISIS campaign, especially members of religious minorities, also came Wednesday from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent statutory body.
“USCIRF urges the United States, the Iraqi government, the Kurdistan regional government, and like-minded nations to redouble efforts to work together to defend Iraq’s peaceful religious communities against ISIL’s violent religious repression and provide humanitarian assistance to the many thousands of civilians who now are displaced,” USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett said in a statement.
“ISIL’s offensive against Yazidis and other religious minorities in Sinjar, coupled with its attack against Mosul’s Christians and others two weeks ago, underscore its fanaticism, barbarism and agenda to destroy Iraq’s diversity and its ancient communities,” she said.
According to Iraqi government figures 97 percent of Iraq’s 32 million people are Muslim and the remaining three percent – less than one million people – are Yazidis, Christians, Baha’i and adherents of other minority faiths.
The Yazidi minority, about 500,000-strong, is located primarily in northern Iraq, most of them in the Sinjar region, their ancestral homeland.
Yazidis are an ethnic Kurdish community practicing a religion that predates Islam and Christianity and is viewed with aversion by radical Muslims.