(CNSNews.com) – As Iraq’s biggest Christian town fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) slammed President Obama Thursday for “doing nothing” in response to the atrocities being committed against religious minorities in Iraq, saying it was evident his past assertions on preventing genocide were hollow.
Pope Francis added his voice Thursday to appeals for urgent international intervention to help hundreds of thousands of religious minority civilians fleeing ahead of the jihadist advance.
The fall of the Christian town of Qaraqosh (also known as Bakhdida) 20 miles from Mosul, reportedly prompted as many as 100,000 people to flee towards the nearby Kurdish autonomous region. ISIS first tried to capture the town in early July, but Kurdish “peshmerga” forces had been defending it.
Earlier this week as estimated 200,000 people, many of them members of the Yazidi minority community, fled the town of Sinjar as ISIS seized control. Some managed to cross into the Kurdish region but the U.N. reported that large numbers, including 25,000 children, were stranded on a barren mountain with no access to water or supplies.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said Thursday Iraqi authorities estimate 50,000 people were still “trapped on Mount Sinjar.” He said news reports saying that the U.N. had managed to rescue some of them were erroneous. Rudaw, a Kurdish media network, reported Thursday that some people on the mountain, lacking food or water, had resorted to eating leaves.
The Barnabas Fund, an aid agency supporting minority Christians in Islamic countries, said that as of Thursday all towns and villages in the Nineveh Plain, the historic homeland of Iraq’s Christian minority, were under ISIS control.
In Telkeif (Tall Kayf), a small town five miles north of Mosul, “ISIS fighters raised the black flag of jihad over a church,” it said.
Citing unnamed U.S. officials, the Associated Press reported Thursday that the administration is considering humanitarian air drops to the displaced people in the area, possibly in conjunction with airstrikes.
As ISIS has expanded the territory it controls in northern and western Iraq, it has imposed on religious minorities the same stark choice as it did in its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa earlier this year – convert to Islam, pay a submission tax or be executed.
Since it delivered that ultimatum to the remaining Christians of Mosul in mid-July, Wolf has repeatedly raised the plight of Iraq’s Christians, in speeches on the House floor while Congress was in session, and in letters and statements.
In a sharply-worded letter to the president Thursday, he recalled that Obama issued a presidential directive in 2011 stating that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.”
Wolf cited from a speech Obama gave at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2012 when he announced the establishment of an Atrocities Prevention Board, and said that “we’re making sure that the United States government has the structures, the mechanisms to better prevent and respond to mass atrocities.”
“Tragically, mass atrocities are happening again today – and on your watch,” he wrote. “Genocide is taking place today in northern Iraq, where the Christian and Yezidi populations are being exterminated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”
“Your administration is aware of what is going on, yet you are doing nothing,” Wolf charged. “Just what is the point of having an ‘Atrocities Prevention Board’ if it takes no action to prevent or stop atrocities?”
“It is now clear to the nation and the world that your words were hollow; your ‘presidential directive’ apparently was nothing more than a token gesture,” he said.
Recalling President Clinton’s admission of deep regret for failing to stop the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Wolf predicted that Obama would similarly “come to sincerely regret your failure to take action to stop the genocide in Iraq.”
“Mr. President, say something; do something.”
The Vatican said Pope Francis was “following with deep concern the dramatic news reports coming from northern Iraq, which involve defenseless populations.”
“Christian communities are particularly affected: a people fleeing from their villages because of the violence that rages in these days, wreaking havoc on the entire region,” spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement.
“His Holiness urgently calls on the international community to protect all those affected or threatened by the violence, and to guarantee all necessary assistance – especially the most urgently needed aid – to the great multitude of people who have been driven from their homes, whose fate depends entirely on the solidarity of others.”
The Iraqi government has long been calling on the U.S. to carry out airstrikes against ISIS fighters, and as fears of a humanitarian disaster grew the Kurdish regional government repeated the appeal this week, saying it was fighting virtually alone against the jihadists in the north.