Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have now been driven from their homes by the violence that has been spiraling out of control across their country. In recent weeks, Sunni rebels associated with the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have advanced across Iraq, taking over territories and executing those they see as opponents. Of the more than a million Iraqis that have been displaced this year, half have been displaced within the last couple of weeks.
Over the last several decades, there have been few prolonged periods of peace in Iraq. For Akheel Ahmed, this is the second time in recent years that he has become a refugee in his own country. A Sunni Arab, he fled with his three sons from his home in the central Iraq town of Balad a few days ago, heading for a mountain village along the Iranian border. Referring to the Sunni militant group, he said, “Here is ISIS and here are the Shiite militias. We are in between.”
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria now rivals Al Qaeda as the world’s most powerful jihadist group. ISIS now controls territory greater than many countries after having occupied crucial sections of Syria over the past year and seizing vast areas of Iraq recently. On June 10, ISIS seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.
The civil war in Syria and the violent Sunni uprising across Iraq have increasingly merged the fighting into a single battle zone. Millions of Syrians and Iraqis have already fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to escape the fighting. Jordan is facing difficulty caring for the huge numbers of displaced refugees.
A United Nations official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “The situation is reaching a critical point. As bad as Syria is, the crisis here is growing by day and exceeding the capabilities of the government. Effectively there is no centralized government over all of Iraq now, and in past years, they were already relatively weak.”